The internet and social media outlets like Facebook were supposed to increase people’s freedoms. The technology was meant to enable the free exchange of ideas across the globe. All sorts of uncensored ideas.
The reality is turning out to be quite different.
‘Hate speech’ is now being actively tracked and deleted from the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google. But who defines what counts as hate speech?
Even in Australia, it’s a stretch to trust government bureaucrats to make that decision for you. And if the Nanny State grows over time rather than withers, the definition of hate could expand to any internet posting that may cause offence.
Of course, censorship efforts in the West are still far behind what’s going on in nations like China and Vietnam.
In fact, the Vietnamese government has just put Facebook on notice as it encourages a shift to ‘domestic social networks’.
Vietnam’s new cybersecurity law
In November last year, Vietnam announced it wanted half of social media users in their country on domestic social networks by 2020. They also wanted to make plans to prevent ‘toxic information’ on Facebook and Google.
And it seems they’re living up to their aspirations.
Vietnam’s new cybersecurity law — effective since 1 January 2019 — enables the communist-ruled Vietnamese state and government to have control of cyber data, to achieve ‘the ultimate goal of maintaining Vietnam’s national security and “social order”’, says international law firm Allens.
Allens also defines the law as ‘unprecedented in its far-reaching coverage and the extensive powers it gives to the state’.
The law essentially involves the censoring of any ‘offending information’, in as many forms which this phrase can take as possible. This includes the obvious offenses like spreading false or defamatory claims about government agencies and actions.
However, vaguely defined offences, such as producing content ‘that incites riots…and/or social disorders’ means Vietnam can potentially charge any negative post that triggers a similar negative reply.
And this is exactly situation which Facebook finds themselves in.
According to RAW, Vietnamese state media have reported Facebook violating the new cybersecurity law by allowing anti-governmental posts to be published on the platform.
‘Facebook had reportedly not responded to a request to remove fan pages provoking activities against the state,’ the official Vietnam News Agency said, citing the Ministry of Information and Communication.
Such content was reportedly ‘slanderous’, involving the defamation of certain individuals and organisations, and thus was considered to ‘seriously violate’ the new law, as the Agency quoted the Ministry.
A Facebook spokeswoman spoke on behalf of the company, saying: ‘We have a clear process for governments to report illegal content to us, and we review all these requests against our terms of service and local law’.
Perhaps, what they’ve failed to realise, is that Vietnam’s new decree now insists on Facebook following their local law.
Vietnam wants a local Facebook
Another key component of this new cybersecurity law is that it requires tech firms to ‘have headquarters or representative offices in Vietnam…and store within Vietnam the data of Vietnamese users’, as per the draft. The law also states that telecommunications and internet services must ‘provide Vietnamese users’ data upon request’.
As RAW reports, global tech groups have seen the inarguable issue such a set up will have on the nation, as it could undermine development and stifle innovation in Vietnam.
From a business perspective, it will only take a simple request for authorities to gain access customer data and possibly expose arrest-worthy behaviour of employees.
One bad work day could cost you your job…or the entire business’ livelihood!
Naturally Facebook — a gunner for free speech — is refusing to release information to Vietnamese officials on ‘fraudulent accounts’, as RAW reports.
Vietnam’s response is a threat from the Information Ministry to tax Facebook for their advertising revenue from the platform. How dare they earn money from exposing the nation’s flaws.
Supposedly US$235 million was spent on advertising on Facebook in Vietnam last year, but Facebook are remaining ignorant to any tax obligations.
And, for as long as possible, they’ll likely ignore these efforts to rid the world of the freedom of expression. It looks to be only a matter of time, though.
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