Vietnamese government wants homegrown social networks to replace Facebook

By VnExpress   April 18, 2017 | 11:35 pm PT
Vietnamese government wants homegrown social networks to replace Facebook
People are silhouetted as they pose with mobile devices in front of a screen projected with a Facebook logo. Photo by Reuters
Fake pages and anti-state content have got the government rattled.

The Vietnamese government plans to work with Facebook to remove fake pages that purport to belong to state leaders as it pursues a social media cleanup campaign, Minister of Information and Communications Truong Minh Tuan told a parliamentary committee Tuesday.

Vietnam has 49 million internet users, or more than half of population, and more than 45 million social media accounts, a space Tuan said is not always a good thing.

“There are good and bad people on social media,” Tuan said at a hearing of the National Assembly's Standing Committee. Distortions, defamations and fabrications mostly happen on international platforms such as Google, YouTube and Facebook, while most pages licensed in Vietnam comply with regulations, he said.

Tuan's ministry recently asked Google to block and remove 2,200 clips on YouTube that contained "slanderous" and "defamatory" content against Vietnamese leaders. Google had removed nearly 1,300 such clips as of April 12.

Tuan also called on the mainstream media and Vietnamese social networks to ensure speedy and accurate information.

“In the long term we need social networks provided by local businesses that can replace and compete with Facebook in Vietnam,” he said.

The government has been working hard in recent months to rein in the internet.

In January, the information ministry issued a circular asking Facebook and similar sites with a Vietnamese base of over one million users to “collaborate” with authorities to block “toxic information”, ranging from ads for banned products to anti-state content and state secrets.

Facebook is the most popular social network in Vietnam with around 35 million users, or 70 percent of the country's online community.

In recent years, the government has taken various steps to embrace the platform. Vietnam’s health minister launched her official Facebook page more than two years ago to provide health information and receive questions from the public. It was months before Vietnam's central government opened its own Facebook page in October 2015.

The then Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung urged government officials to embrace social networks, which "we won’t be able to ban".

Zachary Abuza, a Washington-based analyst who authored a 2015 paper about the media and civil society in Vietnam, made a similar point.

“The internet infrastructure developed far faster than the [Vietnamese] government’s ability to regulate and control it,” he told VnExpress International. “There is nothing the government can do to shut it down. And there are plenty of technical workarounds.”

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