Bamboo Firewall: How Vietnam Forced Facebook to Censor

Countries Mar 16, 2021

Over the past several years, Vietnam has made the most of the Internet's advantages for the construction, development, and international integration of the country in all areas of the national economy. During the initial period of Vietnam's Internet connection, there were only 200,000 Internet users. In 2019, when the country's population was almost 97 million people, this number reached 64 million. Vietnam currently ranks 12th among the leading countries in terms of the number of Internet users.

Vietnam's consistent position is not to prohibit the Internet's development but prohibit actions on the Internet that contradict the people's cultural traditions, hinder society's development, and infringe on national security, political stability, and public order in the country.

So, based on the laws, the Vietnamese authorities forced Facebook to censor political posts. In order to achieve this decision, the state telecom operators turned off the local servers of Facebook, which led to a slowdown in local traffic on the social network.

The servers were not connected for seven weeks until the agreement was reached to censor anti-state posts. Under pressure, the Facebook team had to obey the authorities' demands to introduce censorship and restrict access to declared illegal content.

Facebook principles generally reject government requests to block access to users' posts, but the shutdown of the servers forced the social network to comply with the demands of the Vietnamese authorities.

Facebook made an exception for the millions of users living in Vietnam.

Problems with access to Facebook in Vietnam began at the end of February 2020. For a long time, these problems were explained by technical issues of the networks of operators. State telecommunications companies have apologized for the unstable access to Facebook and said they were working to fix it. But all this time, Facebook representatives were negotiating with the authorities and discussed the conditions that would allow them to stay on the Vietnamese market.

But even though Facebook started working in Vietnam again, citizens should still first think about their publications before posting them, even if they are posts that do not relate to criticism of the state. In March 2020, about 700 people were fined for posts about the novel coronavirus.

According to the representatives of public security agencies, these publications caused unnecessary panic among the population. They also called this incident "spreading misinformation."

Most of the Internet statements for which fines were issued did not pose a danger to the public and the national fight against COVID-19. But the "criminals" were summoned to the police, detained, and interrogated by local members of the public security forces.

This practice will continue to undermine the influence of public opinion in containing and regulating the powerful Vietnamese regime, which could, in the long term, undermine people's right to freedom of expression.