(Noted News) — As the U.S. deals with its own internet censorship debate, the Vietnamese government has taken issue with Facebook users spreading anti-government rhetoric across the social media platform.
According to Reuters, an anonymous official from Facebook involved with the case said that the company had struck a deal with the Vietnamese state in April of 2020 to begin cracking down on anti-government sentiments, but was asked in August to introduce even tighter measures when the government wasn’t satisfied with the amount of censoring.
“We made an agreement in April. Facebook has upheld our end of the agreement, and we expected the government of Vietnam to do the same… They have come back to us and sought to get us to increase the volume of content that we’re restricting in Vietnam. We’ve told them no. That request came with some threats about what might happen if we didn’t.”
During the dispute in April, Vietnam had taken Facebook completely off the web by shutting down their main servers until they came to a deal.
Reuters’ source said that the threats included a complete shutdown of Facebook in Vietnam where it receives nearly $1 billion in revenue from its 60 million Vietnamese users.
Vietnam’s crackdown on government-critical sentiments is not exactly a shock. According to Reporters Without Borders, Vietnam ranks 175 out of 180 in press freedom. The ruling Communist Party of Vietnam has a history of obstructing the press, literature, art, music, television, and the internet. This has traditionally been done “unofficially”, given that their constitution states, “The citizen shall enjoy the right to freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of the press, of access to information, to assemble, form associations and hold demonstrations. The practice of these rights shall be covered by the law.”
According to Reuters, a Vietnamese state official told them that Facebook needs to abide by local laws “spreading information that violates traditional Vietnamese customs and infringes upon state interests”.
In 2019, Vietnam even tried to launch its own social network called Gapo to attract users away from Facebook. Gapo has yet to catch on in any significant way, probably adding to the government’s frustration.
According to Amnesty International and other rights groups, Facebook should not be so quick to bow to government demands on censorship, and instead try to uphold people’s right to express themselves.
“Facebook has a clear responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate in the world and Vietnam is no exception… Facebook is prioritizing profits in Vietnam, and failing to respect human rights,” Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for campaigns said.
Reuters’ source from Facebook said that the company had been subject to a “14 month-long negative media campaign” in state-run Vietnamese press leading up to their current stalemate.
In the U.S., the conversation around social media censorship is a bit different, with social media giants continuing to be grilled by government officials about censoring too much, rather than too little, and allegedly with political bias.
Both Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and Jack Dorsey of Twitter, have endured extensive criticism from everyone from senators to the president himself, who has found many of his tweets flagged by fact-checking labels on Twitter.
The repealing of Section 230, the proposed solution to social media censorship qualms in the U.S., is still finding its way to a meaningful legal process.
According to a report by Day One Project, the next presidential administration needs a “different blueprint for reform,” which includes “modernizing criminal law for the digital age.”
“Platforms cannot plead Section 230 as a defense if they create or develop content, even if they only develop it ‘in part.’ A clearer definition of the line between content hosting and content development will clarify when platforms are able to use Section 230 as a defense and when they cannot.”
It is unclear what the next step is with Facebook’s battle with Vietnam. Should Vietnam ban Facebook, they will be just the fifth country to do so, joining China, North Korea, Iran, and Syria.