Vietnam has further tightened its restrictions on social media platforms, decreeing that they remove “misinformation” and “false news” within 24 hours of requests being lodged by the Vietnamese authorities.
As Reuters reported, Vietnam’s Information and Communications Minister Nguyen Manh Hung told the country’s parliament late last week that the “take-down” period offered to big tech firms has been lowered to 24 hours, down from 48 hours previously. Hung justified the move with the claim that “false news, if it is handled in a slow manner, will spread very widely.”
He also said, per Reuters, that Vietnam would hike the penalties for posting and disseminating “misinformation,” which Hung said were currently only a fraction of the amount imposed by neighboring countries. “The ministry will propose to the government an increase in administrative fines to a level that is high enough to deter the public,” he said.
From the perspective of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP), “misinformation” and “false news” are more or less equivalent to the elastic definitions contained in its criminal code, which outlaws “anti-state” activities and anything deemed to undermine the Party’s monopoly on power. Recognizing that social media offers a borderless means of communication to opponents of the government, it has unsurprisingly set about restricting it, and migrating its legacy media controls into the digital sphere.
Plans for a 24-hour takedown period were first reported by Reuters in April, part of a string of reports that the news agency has run about the VCP’s series of recent moves designed to bring the unruly online sphere under control. Vietnamese are avid users of social media – the country has the seventh-largest pool of users in the world, in addition to 60 million YouTube users and 20 million on TikTok – and the Party is determined to ensure that these digital technologies remain harmonized with its own political prerogatives.
So far it has tackled the challenge from several angles. It has introduced a social media code of conduct that encourages people to post positive things about their country and prohibits anything that violates the law or affects “the interests of the state.” It has also required technology firms to store users’ data locally and to set up local offices and is preparing new rules to limit which social media accounts can post news-related content.
Perhaps the most significant element is the push for social media platforms to remove “false news” and “anti-state” content. In the case of Facebook, they have leveraged the fact that the country produces an estimated $1 billion in annual revenue for Facebook’s parent company, Meta, which has accordingly shown itself willing to accede to the takedown requests. In a report published in late 2020, the advocacy group Amnesty International claimed that Facebook and YouTube are complicit in “censorship and repression on an industrial scale” in Vietnam.
While a 24-hour takedown requirement is not the most stringent in Southeast Asia – proposed rules in Indonesia mandate that tech firms respond to “urgent” content removal requests within four hours – it does mark an important step forward in the VCP’s goal of ensuring that critical content remains trapped in the digital net.