Vietnam ambitiously plans to verify social media accounts

By Luu Quy   May 17, 2023 | 10:57 pm PT
Vietnam ambitiously plans to verify social media accounts
The Facebook logo is displayed on a mobile phone in this picture illustration taken December 2, 2019. Photo by Reuters/Johanna Geron
The information ministry wants Vietnam's social media landscape to welcome verified accounts only, with real names and phone numbers attached, but it is not going to be easy.

In a draft decree on the management, provision and usage of Internet services and online information, the Ministry of Information and Communications said social media platforms, both inside and outside of Vietnam, must verify their users and be able to provide authentic information to authorities upon request.

Under the decree, unverified accounts that fail to provide accurate information would be prohibited from posting on social media platforms in the country, although they would still be able to view content.

The verification process would be done using people's real names and phone numbers and only verified accounts would be allowed to post content, comments and livestream.

"Unverified accounts would be stopped and dealt with at different degrees," said deputy information minister Nguyen Thanh Lam on May 8.

The draft decree states that social media platforms would be responsible for verifying user accounts. They must also manage livestream content and must be able to remove inappropriate content within three hours upon request. If social media accounts and channels generate revenues, they must be registered with the information ministry.

Facebook has required users in several regions, including Vietnam, to use their real names when creating accounts. YouTube and Google do not require identity verification when creating accounts, but phone numbers are required for account verification and security. For people who make money off YouTube and Google AdSense, the platform would require them to verify their identities.

As more people begin to operate in the digital world, account verification would help the law be applied effectively and fairly, with no difference between real-life and online identities, experts have said.

"Verification would help remove toxic, harmful and violating content online, protecting the rights and interests of individuals and organizations, while enhancing people’s awareness and responsibility in cyberspace," said Vu Ngoc Son, CTO of the Vietnam National Cyber Security Technology Corporation.


But pushing the agenda will be difficult, according to Son.

As social media platforms operate across borders, account verification would be difficult until it is a globally accepted standard. By using tools to change one's geographical location online, users can sign up for accounts in other countries instead of Vietnam, Son said.

Additionally, the need for anonymity when communicating with others is a "real human need, which was there before the Internet existed," according to Son. Functions to preserve anonymity have always been designed to satisfy such a need, he added.

"Removing anonymity is exceedingly difficult and requires efforts from all sides: authorities, service providers and users," he said.

The fact that several platforms verify their users through different services (e.g. a Facebook account can be created using a Google email address) means that a single break in the chain could spell failure for the whole identity verification process, Son said.

Identity verification means users would need to send information like ID card numbers or phone numbers to social media platforms. That harbors the risk of data leaks, according to experts.

Khiem Vu, the administrator of an online content creator group, said account verification could help reduce the number of fake accounts. But such a process needs to be properly conducted without impeding users and content creators online, he added.

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