Vietnamese addicted to online controversies like oxygen

By Quynh Nguyen   August 25, 2023 | 04:00 am PT
When Yen Thanh was about to go to bed, she came across an online controversy involving a famous female singer and wasted her time scrolling through thousands of comments.

The third-year student in Hanoi said that she rarely misses any drama or scandal on social media, from accusations and affairs to discussions about the private lives of celebrities. She admits that she doesn’t want to miss out on any of the latest drama ever.

"If I don’t keep up with the drama, I’ll be excluded from the conversation," Thanh said.

FOMO (fear of missing out) has prompted many young Vietnamese to closely follow social media groups with hopes to catch up on new scandals.

Cong Thanh, 25, from the northern province of Quang Ninh always hopes Facebook groups unveil new controversies during office hours so it does not affect his rest time.

"Posts exposing an ex-lover, criticizing a company, or revealing the confidential information of a celebrity always create curiosity and excitement. Sometimes I scroll to read about drama in these groups until 3-4 a.m.," he said.

Thanh also believes that reading other people's stories helps him gain more perspective on life, which cannot be found in mainstream television or books.

A post about scandal and controversy on Vietnamese social media can easily attract thousands of reacts and comments. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

A post about scandal and controversy on Vietnamese social media can easily attract thousands of reacts and comments. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

This addiction to drama and controversy does not only happen in young people.

Nhung, 50, in the central province of Thanh Hoa, also likes to follow all the latest gossip. Her initial purpose was to shorten the generation gap with her children and young colleagues during conversations.

"But the more I read, the more I’m addicted, especially posts about affairs or other exposes on [the private lives of] individuals. It has become a habit, and I feel uneasy if I don’t go online for a few hours. Sometimes I even post comments to express my opinion," Nhung said.

The word "drama" is of ancient Greek origin, referring to a stimulating action or event. Today, the word is used by young people to refer to stories that expose and reveal the scandals that have an impact on the community and society, especially those that receive a lot of attention.

On Vietnamese social media platforms, there are hundreds of groups with several million followers who continuously share shocking and exclusive information on celebrities, or make statements and post about actions that can create controversy.

Recently, when a beauty contest winner made shocking statements, an anti-fan group of hers was created and attracted nearly 500,000 followers after just six days. On average, there are nearly 1,000 posts about her in the group every day, with thousands of comments.

There has not been any specific research on the public-gossip following habits of Vietnamese people, but a recent survey by the Singaporean market research company DataReportal shows that Vietnamese use the Internet for an average of 6 hours 47 minutes daily, in which 2 hours and 21 minutes spent on social networks.

An experiment observing subjects deprived for 72 hours without social networks conducted by the Vietnam Program for Internet and Society (VPIS) at the Hanoi University of Social Sciences and Humanities showed that more than 43% of participants gave up within the first six hours.

Their common emotional states were "loss of connection with friends," "confusion due to not knowing what is going on," "anxiety" and "the feeling of missing something."

Dr. Hoang Trung Hoc, head of the Department of Psychology Education at the Education Management Academy Hanoi, said human nature is that when people see something new, their curiosity increases. They immediately direct their attention to it.

This reaction is often present in each individual, accompanied by behaviors such as obsessing, discussing or commenting on issues related to the topic.

Under the influence of technology, curiosity, discussion, and criticism have been moved to cyberspace, an often-anonymous realm.

"More and more young people see the virtual world like real life," Hoc said. "They tend to pay attention, discuss and comment on everything according to their subjective thoughts on the social network environment, through the computer screen."

While updating the latest news helps network users entertain themselves, reduce stress and easily connect with people, Le Anh Tu from the Faculty of Public Relations and Communication at Van Lang University HCMC affirmed that following drama can become useless and a waste of time if the information people consume does not create value for themselves and society.

Tu added that if users are not aware enough, it’s easy to get caught up in negativity.

"Getting sucked into endless controversies is a waste of time and it can affect individuals and even cause misleading information. Those who create rumors and fake drama can face administrative fines and even jail time if it affects others, while victims are criticized and suffer mental health damage," Tu said.

The habit of updating the latest drama makes Yen Thanh always in a state of fatigue and sluggishness. It also causes her frequent migraines due to lack of sleep.

Thanh’s original purpose was to go to social networks to relieve stress after work, but many times he "accidentally" becomes "a keyboard hero," leaving offensive comments when expressing his personal opinion.

"I should have stopped at reading because I have no right to judge them," Thanh said.

Account owners who share unverified information also face penalties.

At the end of July, Nguyen Le Tan Tai, 19, from HCMC was sentenced to 12 months of probation and community service for using Facebook to spread fabricated and false information about the famous case of female students abused during military lessons. The post has hundreds of thousands of shares and interactions, causing confusion among the community and negatively affecting many people.

Over the past two years, the Ministry of Public Security has issued nearly 600 administrative fines against individuals and organizations that post or share fake and unverified news on social networks, worth a total amount of more than VND6 billion ($252,650). The ministry also prosecuted 63 cases with 68 defendants for this act.

Tu advises network users to filter information and not let false and fabricated news affect their lives and those around them.

"Be a civilized ‘drama’ follower who knows when to stop, instead of getting addicted and creating misleading perceptions," he said.

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