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.