Vietnam And Online Censorship
Vietnam is well known for its strict censorship of traditional media. But the explosion of new technology and the rapid expansion of internet options has meant that the Government must try harder to keep pace. As a result, social media has been relatively free from censorship, and the Government believes this has led to abuse.
Its response has been to tighten control. In 2019, a new Cybersecurity Law was adopted to provide more tools to regulate cyberspace. Among other things, any onshore or offshore entity that provides online services must cooperate with authorities to identify users deemed to have breached laws on cybersecurity; and, within 24 hours from receiving a request, delete “anti-Government,” “offensive” or “inciteful” content.
The result has been noticeable. The Ministry of Information and Communications (“MIC”) reported that, in 2020 at the Government’s request, Facebook blocked 236 accounts and removed 2,036 posts said to propagate fake news and anti-state content. During the pandemic, Facebook also blocked 11 “impostor accounts” of the Ministry of Health and 141 alleged fake news posts about the Covid-19 situation. Similarly, around 29,000 videos and 24 YouTube channels deemed to be publishing anti-party or anti-state content were removed. The MIC states that Facebook and Google have agreed to block political advertisements from users deemed to be anti-State or terrorist, and not to share advertising revenue for “content that violates Vietnamese law”. The companies have never acknowledged that such an agreement exists.
In June 2021, Vietnam introduced steps to shape the social network environment. A new national code of conduct on social media behaviors is intended to develop ethical standards, and to promote “good conduct” for social network users, and a healthy and safe online environment. The code of conduct is only a guideline, not a set of rules with which social media users must strictly comply.
Vietnam is also preparing a decree which would impose more control over cross-border social media services and livestreaming. According to the current version of the draft decree, if a user of a foreign social network (say, a YouTube channel) has more than 10,000 subscribers from Vietnam or provides livestreaming and revenue-generating services (to a Vietnamese audience), it must notify the MIC of its contact details, number of subscribers, and summary of its main content. Additionally, upon MIC’s request, customers must remove violating content within 3 hours. If the current draft remains, it will impose a huge responsibility on both customers and social network providers.
With a young population, over 70% of which is on social media, Vietnam is focused on regulating the receipt and consumption of information/news on online platforms. The Government seeks the cooperation of tech firms like Facebook and Google. Vietnam, however, must exercise caution and not be viewed as disruptive of free speech, a clear human rights issue which will elicit a strong response from partners like the US.
This article appeared on Media Law International in April 2022.
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