Vietnam unhappy with how Facebook handles requests to remove 'toxic' content

By Ngan Anh   November 17, 2017 | 09:07 am PT
Vietnam unhappy with how Facebook handles requests to remove 'toxic' content
More than half of Vietnam's population of nearly 92 million people are online. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Google has been more cooperative on the matter as Vietnam holds on to plans for a home grown social network.

“Google and YouTube have been more cooperative with the Ministry of Information and Communications than Facebook,” said Minister Truong Minh Tuan at a parliamentary Q&A session on Friday.

Tuan has also complained about Facebook to U.S. diplomatic officials in a recent meeting.

The ministry in January issued a circular asking Facebook and similar sites with more than one million Vietnam-based users to collaborate with authorities to block “toxic” content, ranging from ads for banned products to anti-state propaganda.

While Google complied by removing from YouTube over 5,000 videos which slandered and defamed Vietnamese leaders, Facebook has been less cooperative, said Tuan without elaborating further.

The ministry is going to intensify its crackdown of violations on social media and has called on victims of online harassment to come forward as authorities simply cannot monitor all 53 million users.

While the government encourages development of social media, “it has to go hand in hand with political stability, and not distort, defame, divide or disseminate content that goes against the policies of the Party, the State and Vietnamese culture,” deputy prime minister Vu Duc Dam told the legislative National Assembly.

“Countries with the right legal tools have tried to establish their own providers to prevent monopolies, or they resort to technical measures to block, filter, slow down [toxic content] and educate [users],” he said.

The information ministry is currently reviewing legislation on social media, learning from the likes of China, who has “its own internet”, as well as Russia, Japan and South Korea where Facebook is only the fifth, sixth and seventh most popular social network respectively.

Meanwhile, Vietnam’s internet market is dominated by foreign providers like Google, Facebook and Yahoo, which account for 80 percent of the market share, according to the deputy prime minister.

Vietnam’s attempts to develop an alternative platform to Facebook and Google have, however, consistently failed, analysts say, because the country lacks the financial wherewithal and leverage over the tech giants to simply block them.

Additionally, Facebook’s popularity stems partly from why the government wants to go after it in the first place: content that is sensationalistic, inflammatory or outright untrue.

So if Vietnam seeks to curb such elements by creating a new social network, “people will simply not use it,” said Tri Phuong, a researcher at Yale University who is studying new media technologies, urban youth cultures, and digital communities in Vietnam.

But minister Tuan believes home grown social media would be able to compete with Facebook and Google in the next five to seven years if local firms are supported by preferential policies, including lower taxes and levies, and a strong enough digital ecosystem.

To succeed, Tuan argues, telecoms companies, social networks, advertisers and content creators have to work together.

Earlier this year, he also called on all companies doing business in the country to stop advertising on YouTube, Facebook and other social media until they find a way to halt the publication of "toxic" anti-government information.

Facebook and Google earned more than $100 million from advertisements of businesses in Vietnam last year, but did not pay taxes, he said.

Around 60 percent of the country’s population of nearly 92 million is online. Vietnam is in the top 10 countries for Facebook users by numbers and Google's YouTube is also a popular platform.

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