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Vietnam Activists: Facebook Content Restrictions Are Worsening

2018-4-10

Vietnamese activists and independent media groups say Facebook policies on restricting content could increase government censorship.

More than 50 individuals and groups sent an open letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. It expresses their concerns about how the social media service is operating in Vietnam. The U.S.-based human rights group Viet Tan released the document Monday.

The letter says Facebook’s system of removing material if enough people protest about it could “silence human rights activists and citizen journalists in Vietnam.”

The groups say they have worked with Facebook officials in the past to make sure content is not wrongly removed. In the letter, they say this worked well until 2017. But, they write, that year “account suspensions and content takedown” increased.

Facebook has said its policies on content restrictions are necessary to prevent false news and enforce Facebook rules.

“We will remove content that violates these standards when we’re made aware of it,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement to Reuters. The spokeswoman said the company’s policies are the same in Vietnam as in other countries where it operates.

“There are also times when we may have to remove or restrict access to content because it violates a law in a particular country, even though it doesn’t violate our community standards,” the statement added.

Last year, Facebook’s head of Global Policy Management, Monika Bickert, met with Vietnamese officials to discuss policies for operating in Vietnam.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 10, 2018.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 10, 2018.

At the time, the two sides agreed to directly cooperate to limit illegal or offensive material, according to Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications. Facebook also promised to remove false accounts and false information on the site about top government officials, the ministry said.

Vietnam is among Facebook’s top 10 users by numbers, with more than 55 million people using the service. It is especially popular with activist groups and citizen journalists.

But Vietnam has a history of restricting public comments that are critical of the government. In the past, Vietnamese police have arrested people for posting anti-government messages online.

The letter said many accounts and pages of well-known citizen journalists were recently blocked on Facebook before and during a major trial of Vietnamese activists.

In the case, Vietnam sentenced a longtime human rights lawyer and activist to 15 years in prison on the charge that he “aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.” Another six activists were sentenced to seven to 13 years.

The letter sent to Zuckerberg says the Vietnamese government employs a 10,000-strong “cyber army” to spread misinformation and silence dissent. The groups say this organization – called Force 47 - has misused Facebook policies to purposely publish false reports about activists and independent media organizations.

The letter said the groups support Facebook’s efforts to fight disinformation for the community. However, they fear the company’s current restriction policies are “putting severe limitations on the very audience that you are trying to serve.”

The letter came the day before Zuckerberg appeared before several U.S. Congressional committees in Washington. They questioned him about Facebook’s involvement in sharing user data with British research company Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg also discussed Facebook’s policies on users’ privacy.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn adapted this story for VOA Learning English, based reports from Reuters and Agence France-Press. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

censorship n. to block or remove material such as writings, film, videos which are not approved by the government

account n. an arrangement in which a person uses internet or service of a particular company

standard n. level of quality

aware n. to know about something

access v. way of getting near something

particular n. kind of something

offensive adj. causing someone to feel upset or hurt

cyber n. relating to electronic communications, especially the Internet

audience n. people watching a performance or taking part