Vietnam Abusing Facebook Reporting Tools To Stifle Dissent

from the and-here-comes-ms-streisand dept

It's funny how strong-arming governments, theoretically able to bypass the red-tape that makes republics and democracies so slow-moving, just can't produce that kind of nimble posture when walking back their attempts to thought-control the internet. Time and again, we find examples of governments taking Orwellian measures against their own people on internet sites and social media networks, finding them to be far less useful than they'd thought, and then merely inching away from those attempts rather than outright reversing them. Ukraine recently served as an example of this, when they attempted to track and creep-out protesters via text messages and police action, before then walking back the text message portion and then finally succumbing to regime-changing revolution.

Vietnam appears to be in the process of learning the same lesson. The country that likes to style themselves a free society apparently employs so-called "opinion shapers" in their government ranks. Those folks' job is to scour the 25 million Vietnamese Facebook users to find anyone critical of the government and then report their accounts to Facebook, which appears to be complying by shutting down the accounts. This, by the way, is the scaled back version of the government interference.

With 25 million Vietnamese users, Facebook is the social network in the country. Since Facebook took off in Vietnam in 2009, authorities have tried unsuccessfully to restrict its explosive growth and role as a medium for free expression. Early attempts by authorities to block Facebook did not succeed and only encouraged netizens to learn how to circumvent and became versed in civil disobedience.
Go figure. You try to clamp down citizens' use of the internet and all that does is make them really good at getting around your attempts to block them. That's the norm, not the exception. But rather than learn their lesson, the government just went with the heavy-handed account shutdown approach, apparently aided by a compliant Facebook. And just so we're clear, we're talking about normal grievances here, not terrorists.
In 2013, 30-year old Dinh Nhat Uy was the first Vietnamese activist known to be arrested for his activities on Facebook. He was convicted for “abusing democratic freedoms” through status updates calling for the release of his younger brother who also used social media to express dissent. Uy’s arrest sparked widespread attention but did not temper enthusiasm for using the social network for political discussion and organizing.
In other words, it still isn't working. Again, this kind of attempt to stifle public grievances with the government is only going to produce the kind of multiplier effect on dissent that we saw in Ukraine, in Egypt, in Tunisia, etcetera, etcetera, forever and ever, amen. That's how this works. I'm not prognosticator, but don't be surprised if you see protests in Vietnam spring up en masse as a result of this heavy-handed approach. And if the government plans on sticking around, a rather abrupt about-face on all this is severely warranted.

And, oh by the way, let's not leave Facebook out of this, either. It's about time the social media giant began taking a stance on this kind of obvious political silencing. They have to keep ideological stances pretty loose, assuming they want to continue operating world-wide, but there is such a thing as going a bridge too far and the Vietnamese government's actions certainly seem like the kind of thing that would be easy to stand against.

Either way, none of this will end up working. Expect gloating posts from us in the not-too-distant future.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

    That One Guy (profile), Aug 1st, 2014 @ 1:00am

    What 'freedoms'?

    He was convicted for “abusing democratic freedoms” through status updates calling for the release of his younger brother who also used social media to express dissent.

    Either they released that statement digitally, where you can't look at the face of person typing, or someone has got to have a world-class poker face. 'Abusing democratic freedoms', for criticizing the government's actions... apparently the Vietnam government has an interesting definition of both 'democracy' and 'freedoms', that includes '*unless you are critical of those that rule you, in which case enjoy your freedom and democracy in jail'.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2014 @ 1:45am

    You've got to be kidding

    "And, oh by the way, let's not leave Facebook out of this, either."

    Facebook is simply doing what Facebook does. It will willingly cooperate with oppressors, rapists, torturers, spammers, criminal gangs, or ANYONE, no matter how long as there's profit in it for Facebook. So please don't labor under the naive delusion that if you or anyone else calls Facebook out on their willingness to happily comply with the demands of the Vietnamese government that they'll actually do anything about it -- well, other than issue a press release full of lies or something equally deceptive and useless.

    It's not that Facebook's highest value is profit: it's their ONLY value.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2014 @ 4:37am

    Re: You've got to be kidding

    Yeah, douche bags will be douche bags - so stop bullying poor facebook.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Flo, Aug 1st, 2014 @ 5:42am


    "Abusing democratic freedom" is a paradox. Either something is a freedom you have, then you can do it as long as you want, or not, in which case you cannot abuse it, because you are not allowed to do it anyway.

    The sentence makes as much sense as being accused of "stealing your own stuff".


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    LduN (profile), Aug 1st, 2014 @ 8:02am


    He was convicted for “abusing democratic freedoms

    Don't you actually need those to abuse them?


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Ninja (profile), Aug 1st, 2014 @ 10:20am

    It's very common. This would be less of a problem if such reports were subject to proper scrutiny (see DMCA takedown notices for more of it).


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2014 @ 4:02am

    Re: You've got to be kidding

    There is a line though - Facebook wasn't the first social network, and it won't be the last, and I'm sure Zuckerberg understands that (and his business types should even if he doesn't). If Facebook is too annoying, people will switch to other social networks, or at least will spend less time looking at Facebook pages and relying less on things like the news feed. If that happens, it will make Facebook less interesting for its customers.

    If they fuck about with users' content, either by deleting things for no good (to the users) reason, or by promoting/hiding them for the benefit of advertisers, people won't put it on Facebook.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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