Report: Vietnam Threatens to Shut Facebook

    19 November 2020

    Vietnam is reportedly threatening to shut Facebook in the country if the company does not accept government demands to restrict local content.

    A Facebook official told Reuters that it has obeyed a government request from April to increase its censorship of "anti-state" posts for local users. But in August, Vietnam asked the social media service to increase restrictions on posts seen as critical of the government.

    "We made an agreement in April. Facebook has upheld our end of the agreement," said the official, who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject. "And we expected the government of Vietnam to do the same."

    The official said the government had attempted to get Facebook "to increase the volume of content" it restricts in Vietnam. "We've told them no. That request came with some threats about what might happen if we didn't."

    The threats included a complete shutdown of Facebook in Vietnam, where the company serves about 60 million users. Two sources told Reuters that Facebook is believed to earn yearly income of nearly $1 billion in Vietnam.

    FILE - An internet user browses through the Vietnamese government's new Facebook page in Hanoi, Vietnam December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Kham/File Photo
    FILE - An internet user browses through the Vietnamese government's new Facebook page in Hanoi, Vietnam December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Kham/File Photo

    Facebook has faced growing pressure from governments over its content policies, including threats to create new rules and enforce fines. But it has avoided a complete ban in all but the few places where it has never been permitted to operate, such as China.

    Vietnam has enacted major economic reforms and shown increasing openness to social change. But the country's ruling Communist Party keeps strict control over media and permits little opposition. The country sits near the bottom of a list that rates nations on press freedoms.

    When asked about the reported dispute, Vietnam's foreign ministry said in a statement to Reuters that Facebook should obey the country's laws. The company should also stop "spreading information that violates traditional Vietnamese customs and infringes upon state interests," the statement said.

    A Facebook spokeswoman said the company had faced additional pressure from Vietnam to censor more content in recent months.

    Reuters reported in April that Facebook's local servers in Vietnam were taken offline early this year until it accepted all the government's demands.

    Facebook has long faced criticism from rights groups for giving in too easily to government censorship requests.

    When asked about Vietnam's reported threat to shut Facebook, an Amnesty International official said the fact that it had not already been banned shows the company could do more to resist government demands.

    "Facebook has a clear responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate in the world and Vietnam is no exception," said Amnesty's Ming Yu Hah. "Facebook is prioritizing profits in Vietnam, and failing to respect human rights," she said.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    censorship – n. the process of removing opinions from books, movies, letters and other media

    uphold – v. to agree with and support a decision, principle or law

    volume – n. the number of amount of something

    sourcen. person who gives information to the police, newspapers, etc.

    infringe – v. to limit someone's rights or freedom

    prioritize – v. decide which of a group of things are the most important so they can be dealt with first