Rumor has it: Vietnamese celebs trip on gossip

By Long Nguyen   June 11, 2020 | 11:01 pm PT
Social networks have become a platform for netizens to smear celebrities, causing a host of repercussions.

Last month, news about actor Tran Thanh taking drugs with some of his celebrity friends were simmering among Vietnamese netizens. The information was posted on Facebook with screenshots of a conversation between a group of friends.

Several hours later, the "joke" post was removed after thousands of people had viewed it.

The actor, an accidental victim of online rumors, decided to meet the women responsible for the post, in the presence of his lawyer.

"I do not know you. You made up a story and spread it on the Internet, that is intentionally wrong," Thanh told the supposed culprits last week.

Thanh is among dozens of Vietnamese celebrities suddenly faced with the hurdles of rumors and misinformation spread via social media.

Actor Tran Thanh (L) meets the women saying he used drugs. Photo courtesy of Tran Thanh.

Actor Tran Thanh (L) meets two women who alleged he took drugs. Photo courtesy of Tran Thanh.

Death hoaxes are some of the most popular tricks. Two months ago, a Facebooker posted photos of model Truong My Nhan depicting a deadly traffic accident, causing netizens to think her dead.

In 2018, singer Nhat Kim Anh was said to be a drug addict and "sleep with every man in showbiz."

Kim Anh had to ask local police to investigate the woman responsible for the rumor, and who deleted her Facebook post shortly after a meeting with the singer.

Virtual jokes, real consequences

Celebrities are the first victims of news about themselves spread on the Internet, which can cause scandals and directly affect their commercial activities.

According to actor Tran Thanh, 10 companies he has collaborated with asked for an explanation last week after rumors about him using drugs made the virtual airwaves. Two other brands halted negotiations over new advertising contracts.

"How can they sign a contract if my reputation is ruined? It affects my life and family," Thanh told the women, adding he had lived under extreme anxiety and pressure since the news broke.

Many artists have shared their frustration and worries, including actor Van Anh and his wife who were said to be divorced after faking their marriage.

In April, local government decided to slap fines on those who post false, slanderous or lurid content online. A new decree regulates fines of between VND10-20 million ($434 - 868) for taking advantage of social networks to provide fake information, slander or insult agencies and organizations, and lower the honor or dignity of individuals.

Thanh has asked his lawyer to consider suing those who made up the rumors and report the case to local police.

In 2015, Hanoi police apprehended Tran Thi Huong Giang, 37, residing in Ba Dinh District, after she created several Facebook accounts to post and share fake news on local celebrities, calling it "truth conveying."

The truth is, about half of Hanoi and Saigon residents encounter fake news at least once a week, according to a survey by Indochina Research last year. Many are concerned about the impact of misinformation on their daily lives.

Rumors about celebrities, spread with the speed of light on the Internet, contribute to these types of news.

Words must be weighed

Vietnam ranks seventh in the world in the number of Facebook users at 58 million, or 75 percent of the population aged 13 or above, according to a report released last year by U.K. advertising agency We Are Social.

Facebook and similar social networks have become a place for users to access a tremendous amount of information, including hoaxes and rumors about celebrities, usually attracting thousands of "likes" and "shares".

News and rumors abour celebrities always attract readers. Photo by Shuttlestock/jurgenfr.

News and rumors on celebrities never fail to attract online readers. Photo by Shuttlestock/jurgenfr.

Many online sellers have used clickbait news to earn more attention from netizens, which can help them approach more potential patrons on the Internet.

According to lawyer Tran Minh Hung in Ho Chi Minh City, financial benefits from sharing these types of news are usually higher than the penalty, prompting many to make up fake stories.

With the popularity of Facebook, a myriad of users are not fully aware of sharing unconfirmed or fake news and their consequences.

The women accusing actor Tran Thanh of sniffing cocaine on Facebook said they were making a joke and apologized. Meanwhile, the person spreading rumors about singer Nhat Kim Anh tried to deny her actions, saying her account was hacked.

Penalties for such actions in recent years have meant minimal deterrence, according to Hung.

"Fining account owners is difficult because of the challenges in proving their violation," he told local media.

The lawyer suggested authorities manage social network information more carefully to ensure proper online conduct.

Thanh is the first Vietnamese celeb to take legal action against those sharing rumors about his personal life, with support from colleagues, many of whom had previously chosen to keep silent.

"I have suffered a lot. The funny thing is that you and I, we do not know each other, I cannot understand why you do that to me," he told the women.

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