Vietnam’s head of the Internet management authority, Nguyen Thanh Lam, has repeatedly claimed that the government has been working with Facebook and Google to remove thousands of videos and accounts from these tech giants’ platforms, according to the country’s mainstream media.
During a press conference on July 7, 2017, the former prominent journalist made the announcement that Youtube, a Google’s product, had removed 3,000 video clips that contained “toxic content” and Facebook had also removed 600 accounts that were fake or contained information that distorted individuals and organizations.
Among those 600 accounts are 132 accounts that frequently distorted or smeared the Communist Party, the government, groups, and individuals, VietNamNet reported.
In an interview with VietNamNet, Nguyen Thanh Lam also expressed his appreciation to Google and Facebook for their cooperation with the Vietnam’s government.
“They understand why we made such requests”, said Mr. Nguyen.
Facebook sent Monika Bickert, Head of Global Policy Management, to Vietnam on April 26 to meet with the Minister of Information and Communication Truong Minh Tuan. According to the Vietnam News Agency, Ms. Bickert told the minister that Facebook was willing to cooperate with the Vietnamese government to block toxic content that violates the local laws.
During the meeting, the Facebook’s representative also made a commitment that they would create a separate channel to process Vietnam’s requests.
A month later, Eric Schmidt, the Chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., met Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Hanoi. He reportedly said that “Google will cooperate with the government” to prevent and remove bad information on Youtube.
Mr. Nguyen Thanh Lam noted that it had been easier to convince Youtube than Facebook: “There was toxic information that Youtube already removed or blocked but Facebook does not”.
We found no information about Vietnam’s requests in 2017 on Google Transparency Report and Facebook’s Government Requests Report, potentially because they have only released reports until 2016.
The Google’s report shows Vietnam has made five content removal requests to Google since 2010. It is not confirmed that Google has actually cooperated with the Vietnamese government to remove the mentioned contents.
However, the tech giant’s website highlights two content removal requests made by the Vietnamese government. One is a blog that “allegedly contained information about the military and criticized the government”, and one is “to remove search results on a particular word that generated results that contained allegedly unflattering depictions of past Vietnamese leaders.” Google declined both requests.
It has been 20 years since Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Google. It is the same period of which Vietnam has been connected to the Internet. The country currently has approximately 50 million Internet users which amount to more than half of the population, and 45 million Facebook users. Both platforms are the most popular search engine and social network in Vietnam respectively.
Yet, the two tech giants are now considered as real threats to the government as they help people access uncensored information about the communist regime and generate political discussions.
In October 2013, Dinh Nhat Uy – the brother of a jailed activist – was sentenced to one year and three months of probation only for using Facebook to criticize the government.
A prominent human rights activist, blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Mother Mushroom), was also sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment in June 2017 partly for posting articles that “contain untruthful and baseless information” about the Communist Party and its sole-leadership over the political system of Vietnam.
The government usually uses three internationally-condemned criminal provisions, Article 79, 88 and 258, to put dissidents and activists in jail.
Not only criminalizing online expression, Hanoi also puts administrative sanctions on those who voice their dissents on the Internet. Websites’ owners, social networks, and Internet users may be fined up to US$4,700 for “criticizing the government, the Party or national heroes” or “spreading propaganda and reactionary ideology against the state”
Many Facebook users and bloggers have been fined under these regulations, according to a Freedom House’s report.
It is significant to note that the Vietnamese government has made claims about receiving cooperation from Google and Facebook since early 2017, in the middle of a new crackdown on the democracy movement that has led to at least 16 activists and dissidents being arrested or convicted.
In 2014, Vietnam was named as an enemy of the Internet by Reporters Without Borders, a France-based human rights organization.