The human rights group Amnesty International warned today that Facebook and Google are helping to censor peaceful dissent and political expression in what is fast becoming a “no man’s land” in Vietnam.
The imprisonment of critics in communist Vietnam is not new, but it has come under fire in recent years for targeting Facebook users. In Vietnam, where all independent media are banned, Facebook is a popular forum for activists.
Facebook, which earlier this year admitted to blocking content deemed illegal by authorities, revealed in its latest transparency report that censorship of content ordered by the government had increased by nearly 1,000 percent over the previous six months.
“Amnesty International said in its report today that it has interviewed 11 activists whose Facebook content was blocked in Vietnam this year, and three others whose similar content was censored by Google’s YouTube.
Among them, Nguyen Van Trang, a fugitive from Vietnam who is wanted for his involvement in a pro-democracy group, said that since May, Facebook has blocked all of his posts about top Communist Party leader Nguyen Phu Trong and top party official Tran Quoc Vuong.
Nguyen also said that his postings on controversial issues, such as land disputes, were also blocked by Vietnam’s YouTube.
He told AFP: “I feel so angry that for social activists, these platforms play an important role in influencing people’s hearts and minds on progressive values such as democracy, human rights and civil society.”
“The Facebook and Google compromise is not just blocking messages, it’s also hindering progress in a country where people don’t have many opportunities to engage in politics.”
More than 53 million people in Vietnam, or more than half of the population, use Facebook, and the platform is an important marketing tool for local businesses.
According to industry experts, Vietnam is now the top revenue-generating country in Southeast Asia for both Facebook and Google, but Amnesty International warns that while they “were once the country’s great hope for expanding freedom of expression, social media platforms are fast becoming no-man’s land.
According to state media, Vietnam’s Minister of Information and Communication Nguyen Manh Hung said last month that technology companies are complying with requests to remove “messages and propaganda that are detrimental to the Party and the country” at a higher rate than in the past. The same report also said that this year Facebook complied with 95% of government requests, while YouTube complied with 90%.