Looks like we Vietnamese are sore, bad losers

June 23, 2021 | 03:41 pm PT
Pham Hai Chung Communications researcher
Ali Sabah was not a popular man in Vietnam after the UAE loss at the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. But we actually lost more than a match.

We lost our cool and dented our image.

After the match ended June 15 3-2 in favor of the hosts, the social media account named Ali Sabah Adday Al-qaysi received tons of threats and abuses.

Ali Sabah was the referee of the match for which Vietnamese fans had high expectations. It was the national team’s last game of the second qualifying round. In the previous seven games, Vietnam had won five and drawn two.

Despite the 2-3 loss against the UAE in that game, Vietnam advanced to the final round of the 2022 World Cup for the first time ever in the nation’s football history.

But making history was not enough to mollify the fans who were very angry with Ali Sabah for what they saw as refereeing biases against Vietnam. Whether he was fair or not is not the question here, though. It is how they fans reacted to it that is under scrutiny.

After the game, I counted more than 1,700 public comments on the personal Facebook page of the Iraqi referee by Vietnamese people in Vietnamese.

I did not have the chance to verify if the comments came from authentic sources, but it was clear that most of them were indecent, containing curses, threats and severe insults. There were some who wished him dead, while others ridiculed his appearance.

I was shocked. Still am. And saddened.

Whether it was a fake profile of the referee or his actual official page, such behavior has besmirched Vietnamese people in general and has not done any favor to Vietnamese football.

We have to remember that this is not the first time Vietnamese football fans have acted in such manner. Online attacks on referees have happened for years, either before or after matches. Fans have warned referees to treat their team fairly or lambasted them later on feeling that refereeing decisions had cost Vietnam dearly.

I wonder what the fans think their loutish behavior demonstrates. Their love for sports? National pride? Their right to offend?

Sociologists called such behavior part of the phenomenon of cyber-bullying or cyber-harassment.

Vietnam finished 21st among 25 surveyed countries in the 2020 Digital Civility Index (DCI) collated by American tech giant Microsoft.

The internet has expanded manifold the living space of each person. But, even as technology has allowed us to connect more broadly, it has also empowered digital bullies.

The internet seems to trigger personal emotions faster than ever. It is very easy for people to get caught in an emotional spiral by just seeing someone’s image or reading some information. And just like that, they can get caught up in never-ending controversies. In turn, the escalation of online conflicts can become a factor that destabilizes real-life society.

Things can get very dangerous if people take advantage of the anonymity that the internet provides to slander others, create fake news to discredit someone, bankrupt businesses, threaten human life and even national security.

In 2017, my colleagues and I conducted a study for the internet and society program under the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, Hanoi. Our survey found that 78 percent of more than 1,000 respondents who are internet users in Vietnam had witnessed or been the victim of hate speech.

This dark side of the free internet world cannot be justified by the "freedom of speech" argument. It is a problem that concerns the responsibilities of different parties including platform providers, users and regulators.

At the Global Media Forum on June 14, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the important question for every country today is: "What values, regulations and laws do you want to apply in the digital world for your citizens?"

In fact, Germany and most European countries have continuously improved their laws and published very detailed codes of conduct for internet use towards preventing users from abusing information and images for nefarious purposes.

A person surfs the internet on the phone. Photo by Reuters/Mike Segar.

A person surfs the internet on the phone. Photo by Reuters/Mike Segar.

Many countries have been strengthening the digital capabilities of their citizens alongside providing digital education that equips citizens with skills to evaluate information, understand responsibilities for the content they create and post online, and build a culture of civilized behavior on the internet. Lessons about online behavior have been introduced in many schools in the U.S. and Europe.

Vietnam has already issued several legal documents to regulate behavior on the internet, including the Law on Cybersecurity, the Civil Law, and Decree 15 in 2020 on sanctioning administrative violations in the fields of information technology and electronic transactions. A framework has been established for sanctioning acts of posting information that is not in accordance with public decency or posting disinformation or content aimed at insulting others.

Most recently, Vietnam issued a Code of Conduct for social media behavior, which encourages users and organizations to use their real names on social media platforms, share content that is legitimate, abide by "moral and cultural standards" and not share hate speech or discriminatory content.

We should consider that our real life desire for a civilized, progressive, free and energetic environment should also be reflected online.

Ultimately, there is a simple formula for real life and online behavior. Do unto others what you would others do unto you.

Today, if the Iraqi referee is the victim of a senseless cyber-attack, tomorrow it could be your agency, your organization or your loved ones or even yourself.

*Pham Hai Chung is a communications researcher. The opinions expressed are her own.

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