The Ambitious 16-Year Development of Domestic Social Media in Vietnam

Many projects were launched with grand ambitions, only to flop, except for a few exceptions.

The Ambitious 16-Year Development of Domestic Social Media in Vietnam

Vietnam has long desired to control or even ban foreign social media platforms. Due to its shared model of single-party governance with characteristics of a socialist-oriented market economy, many argue that Vietnam is following a “digital authoritarian” model similar to China by creating a controlled domestic social media ecosystem. [1] [2]

According to the latest Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) report, Vietnam currently has 935 domestic social media platforms with approximately 130 million registered accounts. [3] Minister Nguyen Manh Hung explained that the reason for having so many is that local businesses focus on specialized "niche" markets with characteristics distinct from Facebook. [4]

Despite these impressive numbers, Vietnam's social media ecosystem still falls short in quality and influence when compared to China. While the neighboring country has effectively established a firewall to block services like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, no foreign platforms have been permanently barred in Vietnam, except for intermittent Facebook disruptions since 2009. [5] [6] While China owns large domestic social media platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, and Douyin, most Vietnamese citizens primarily use foreign services.

Starting in 2007 with the launch of, the first domestically designed and programmed website, Vietnam has gone through four cycles of information and communications ministers, encompassing a 16-year endeavor to establish and develop a domestic social media platform able to compete against global technology giants. [7]

Grand Launches That Failed to Meet Expectations

The first domestic social media project that caught the public's attention was, operated by the Vietnam Multimedia Corp. (VTC). Speaking at the launch ceremony on May 19, 2010, a representative from VTC stated that's goal was to create the number one online information portal in Vietnam for education, entertainment, and online communication. [8]

At that time, Minister of Information and Communications Le Doan Hop emphasized that “Vietnam's social network [] is ready to compete on a global scale through intellect and peace.”

Although the project failed, was an indication of the Vietnamese government’s determination to develop domestic social media platforms as an alternative to international products.

The year 2018 was considered a significant year in Vietnam's internet governance history. In addition to the National Assembly passing the Cybersecurity Law, the public also witnessed firm statements and actions from the government regarding the development of a "Made in Vietnam" digital ecosystem.

Immediately after taking the position as minister of information and communications, Nguyen Manh Hung, the former CEO of the Viettel Military Industry and Telecoms Group, met with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to present his policies.

During a meeting in September 2018, Hung emphasized that Vietnam should focus on developing a digital ecosystem with social media platforms and "Made in Vietnam" search engines as the backbone to replace Facebook and Google in order to force these foreign platforms to comply with the country's laws. [9] [10]

A few months later, on Jan. 10, 2019, MIC issued Directive No. 03/CT-BTTTT regarding the information and communication industry development orientation in 2019. One of the objectives in the field of information security was to "develop Vietnamese social media" and "promote the development of products and services in the Vietnamese digital ecosystem.” [11]

True to the spirit of the directive, many domestic social media platforms were launched in the latter half of 2019. Among them, the social media platform called Gapo, developed by the Gapo Technology Joint Stock Co., garnered attention when it received a commitment of 500 billion dong in investment. [12]

In addition to basic features, Gapo also claimed that it would share its revenue with users. According to this model, users would be paid for the content they posted based on the number of views; users did not need to be influential figures to receive payment. However, Gapo has not yet provided specific details about the payment mechanism and stated that it is still being "researched.” [13]

At an event held on Sept. 15, 2019, Ha Trung Kien, the CEO and co-founder of Gapo, announced that his brainchild had reached two million users within two months of its launch, with the expectation of attracting a total of 50 million users - nearly equal to the number of Facebook users in Vietnam at that time - in 2021. [14] However, Gapo's popularity waned after the initial media hype. By 2022, three years after its launch, Gapo had not released any updated information about its user numbers. [15]

Launching shortly after, the social media platform Lotus, owned by the VCCorp Group with a capital of 1.2 trillion dong, also set an ambitious target of 60 million registered accounts, nearly 90% of Vietnam's population. [16] Based on the "Content is King" principle, Lotus advocated that users typically do not make friends but connect through their shared interests and concerns, utilizing three methods: Feed, Timeline, and Directory/Channel. [17]

Shortly after its launch, Lotus faced complaints from users who found the social media platform unattractive and the registration process overly complicated. [18] Thanh Nien newspaper noted in December 2019 that Lotus seemed like a "dead" social media platform with little or no interaction on posts, even if it should be fairly easy to gain views on the types of content it publishes. Likewise, the Lotus mobile app on Google Play received numerous negative reviews and feedback from users. [19]

Three years later, Lotus has only achieved a little over one million downloads on the Google app store, while the number of actual active users remains undisclosed. [20] Recent observations by The Vietnamese Magazine showed that despite posting content for hours, many prominent news pages on Lotus received only minimal interactions. [21]

Social Media Platforms as Tools for State Propaganda

In addition to projects developed by private companies, the history of the "Made in Vietnam" digital ecosystem also records efforts to build domestic social media platforms that are funded by the state.

In March 2013, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced the construction of a social media platform for youth during a meeting with leaders of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union. The Voice of Vietnam reported that this project was managed by the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union with a budget of about $200 million. However, no further information related to this project surfaced. [22]

Prior to the establishment of Gapo and Lotus, on June 11, 2019, the Central Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of Vietnam, in coordination with the Viettel Group, launched the VCNET Electronic Information System for Propaganda. In addition to its functions of managing and operating the entire digital national propaganda network, VCNET was also introduced as a “social network for sharing, exchanging, and propagating the Party and State's guidelines and refuting false information.” [23]

While some newspapers reported on the event, they did not disclose the budget or funding details for this state-invested social media project. Many observers viewed VCNET as copying the entire interface of Facebook and described it as a mere “project on paper and a waste of money.” [24]

BBC published an article titled “Mạng xã hội VCNET là để ‘tuyên truyền chủ trương’ của Ban Tuyên giáo?” (Is VCNET a Vietnam Central Propaganda Department social network?). In this article, a Facebook user named Ann Do claimed VCNET was a private playground for Communist propagandists. Although other users could participate in discussions, they could not express anything contrary to the prevailing narrative; doing so would risk censorship of the platform. [25]

Three Local Success Stories

In 2019, Vietnam launched its first travel-oriented social media platform, Hahalolo. In addition to having features similar to other social media platforms, users enjoyed the convenience of online travel services and e-commerce. Hahalolo aimed to become an intermediary among tourists, travel service providers, tour operators, retailers, and more. [26]

During a meeting on June 10, 2019, Nguyen Van Ha, the CEO of Hahalolo Travel Social Media Joint Stock Co., confidently declared that Hahalolo would be a travel social media platform for Vietnamese people with over two billion users within the next five years, surpassing even Facebook. [27]

Despite facing skepticism from the public regarding the platform's funding being similar to a Ponzi scheme and criticisms that it was misappropriating users' money shortly after its launch, Hahalolo became a sponsor of the 31st SEA Games, which were held in Vietnam. [28] [29] In August 2022, Hahalolo announced its conquest of the U.S. and Indian markets, becoming the first Vietnamese social media platform to reach this goal. [30]

At this point, the platform boasted nearly 10 million registered users and connected services and utilities to 192 countries and territories. It became a member of the International Air Transport Association and the United States Tour Operators Association, drawing international media attention. [31]

Another local social media platform established by the Viettel Group, Mocha, is also claimed to be a resounding success. In 2019, Mocha announced it had over 19 million regular users, primarily from the youth sector, and a vast and diverse content library, including 10,000 hours of movies, over one million songs, and two million compilation videos. It also introduced a policy of providing its users with 5 GB of internet access per month. [32]

The third successful local social media platform is Zalo, developed by VNG Corp. Its first trial version was launched in August 2012. By 2018, Zalo had officially reached the milestone of 100 million users. [33] [34] As of February 2022, data from the MICsuggests that Zalo is now the most massive domestic free messaging platform in Vietnam, with 74.4 million users in the country. [35]

Zalo became Vietnam's most successful social media platform in 2021 by sending 620 billion messages, making 52 billion minutes of video calls, and sending 14 billion urgent COVID-19 notifications. In addition to Vietnam, this application is also used in the United States, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, Germany, Myanmar, and Singapore. [36]


On March 31, 2022, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam signed Decision No. 411/QD-TTg on Approval for the National Strategy for Development of Digital Economy and Digital Society by 2025, Orientation towards 2030. In this decision, the Vietnamese government emphasized the development of "Made in Vietnam" technology products as the core, creating favorable conditions to nurture digital businesses and build digital platforms in all sectors. [37]

Although it is still too early to assess Vietnam's potential in developing the domestic digital ecosystem as an alternative to foreign services, the determination of the Vietnamese government has at least given rise to social media projects that have attracted a large number of users.

Capitalizing on the appeal of Zalo, Vietnamese authorities have used this application as a forum for citizens to access information about elections and to spread political propaganda. [38] Conversely, they have also requested international social media platforms to remove thousands of alleged pieces of "malicious" information and have taken steps to manipulate Facebook when creating an internal list of "untouchable" officials of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). [39] [40] The VCP allegedly gave Facebook a list of these officials whose names will not be displayed on statuses and posts on its social media.

Trong Phung wrote this article in Vietnamese, which was published in Luat Khoa Magazine on July 26, 2023. Lee Nguyen translated the article into English.


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3. Mạng xã hội Việt sống mòn. (2023). Baodautu.

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5. VnExpress. (2019, May 23). Google, Facebook hay Twitter đã bị Trung Quốc cấm do không tuân thủ chính sách kiểm duyệt nội dung;

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11. (2019). Chỉ thị 03/CT-BTTTT 2019 phát triển ngành thông tin và truyền thông.

12. (2019, July 24). Ra mắt mạng xã hội Gapo của người Việt.

13. Thành Luân. (2019, July 24). Mạng xã hội Việt Gapo ra mắt với nhiều thách thức.;

14. (2019, September 16). Mạng xã hội Gapo cán mốc 2 triệu người dùng.;

15. Hoàng Thùy. (2022, July 15). Gapo - Mạng xã hội Made in Vietnam từng đặt mục tiêu 50 triệu người dùng giờ ra sao?

16. 60 triệu người dùng, con số quá “tham vọng” với mạng xã hội Việt Nam? (2019).

17. Mạng xã hội Lotus ra mắt “khoe” hàng loạt công nghệ mới. (2019, September 16). VOV.VN.

18. T.CHÍ. (2019, November 9). Mạng xã hội Lotus hiện giờ ra sao?: “Phát triển MXH không nhanh được đâu.”; Báo Lao Động.

19. Thành Luân. (2019, December 15). Thực trạng ảm đạm của các mạng xã hội Việt Nam.

20. See [1]

21. See:

22. (2013, March 25). Thủ tướng “xây mạng xã hội cho giới trẻ”; BBC News Tiếng Việt.

23. Thanh, H. (2019, June 11). Ban Tuyên giáo Trung ương ra mắt mạng xã hội VCNET. Báo Kinh Tế đô Thị.

24. VOA Tiếng Việt. (2019, June 11). VCNET của Ban Tuyên giáo là “vẽ dự án, tiêu tiền”?.

25. (2019, June 14). Tranh cãi về mạng xã hội “nhà trồng” VCNET của Ban Tuyên Giáo. BBC News Tiếng Việt.

26. Thành Luân. (2019, June 10). Ra mắt mạng xã hội chuyên về du lịch Hahalolo.

27. Hahalolo: MXH vượt mặt Facebook, có 2 tỉ người dùng hay công ty đa cấp trá hình? (2019).

28. DIEN, B. (2020). Mạng xã hội Hahalolo giữ tiền trái phép của người dùng?; Vtv.

29. Quang Vũ. (2022, May 20). Hahalolo - “trợ lý” đắc lực không thể thiếu trong mùa SEA Games 31. Kenh14.Vn.

30. Ngọc Lê. (2022, June 16). Hahalolo trở thành mạng xã hội đầu tiên ở Việt Nam chinh phục thị trường Hoa Kỳ và Ấn Độ.

31. See [30]

32. Minh Sơn (Vietnam. (2019, July 30). Mạng xã hội Mocha của Viettel đạt hơn 19 triệu người dùng thường xuyên. VietnamPlus.

33. VietNamNet News. (n.d.). “Trận chiến” Zalo của VNG. VietNamNet News.

34. Thanh K. (2018, May 21). Zalo chính thức có 100 triệu người dùng. BÁO SÀI GÒN GIẢI PHÓNG.

35. Nhân, T. (2022, August). Thực hư việc người dùng Zalo phải trả phí từ 2.800 - 55.000 đồng/ngày?;

36. BÁO SÀI GÒN GIẢI PHÓNG. (2013, May 6). Zalo hòa vào xu thế toàn cầu. BÁO SÀI GÒN GIẢI PHÓNG.

37. (2022). Quyết định 411/QĐ-TTg 2022 phê duyệt Chiến lược quốc gia phát triển kinh tế số và xã hội số.

38. lyluanchinhtri. (2023). Công tác tuyên truyền chính trị ở Việt Nam qua mạng xã hội Zalo.

39. News, V. (2023). Gỡ bỏ hàng nghìn thông tin xấu độc trên Facebook, YouTube, TikTok. VietNamNet News.

40. Trần Hà Linh. (2023, June 19). Facebook có danh sách quan chức Việt Nam “bất khả xâm phạm,” Washington Post. Luật Khoa tạp chí.

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