Facebook said to shut down in Vietnam over censorship requests

Facebook said to shut down in Vietnam over censorship requests

Vietnam has threatened to shut down Facebook in the country if it does not come under pressure from the government to censor more local political content on its platform, a senior official at the US social media giant told Reuters.

Facebook it complied with a government request in April to significantly increase the censorship of “anti-state” posts for local users, but Vietnam again asked the company in August to tighten its restrictions on critical posts, the official said.

“We made an agreement in April. Facebook has ratified our part of the agreement, and we expected the government of Vietnam to do the same,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing the sensitivity of the issue.

“They have come back to us and have sought us to increase the volume of content that we are restricting in Vietnam. We have told them no. That request came with some threats about what might happen if we did not.”

The official said the threats included the total shutdown of Facebook in Vietnam, a major market for the social media company where it makes revenue of nearly $ 1 billion (approximately Rs. 7.4 billion rupees), according to two sources familiar with the numbers. .

Facebook has faced increasing pressure from governments over its content policies, including threats of new regulations and fines. But it has avoided a ban in all but the few places where it was never allowed to operate, such as China.

In Vietnam, despite radical economic reform and greater openness to social change, the ruling Communist Party maintains tight control of the media and tolerates little opposition. The country ranks fifth from the bottom in a world ranking of press freedom prepared by Reporters Without Borders.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said in response to questions from Reuters that Facebook should abide by local laws and stop “spreading information that violates traditional Vietnamese customs and infringes state interests.”

A Facebook spokeswoman said she had faced additional pressure from Vietnam to censor more content in recent months.

In its semi-annual transparency report released on Friday, Facebook said it had restricted access to 834 articles in Vietnam in the first six months of this year, following requests from the Vietnamese government to remove anti-state content.

‘Clear responsibility’

Facebook, which serves some 60 million users in Vietnam as the main platform for both e-commerce and expressions of political dissent, is under constant government scrutiny.

Reuters reported exclusively in April that Facebook’s local servers in Vietnam went offline earlier this year until it complied with the government’s demands.

Facebook has long faced criticism from human rights groups for complying too much with government censorship requests.

“However, we will do everything we can to ensure that our services continue to be available so that people can continue to express themselves,” the spokeswoman said.

Vietnam has tried to launch local social networks to compete with Facebook, but none have reached a significant level of popularity. The Facebook official said the company had not seen an exodus of Vietnamese users to local platforms.

The official said Facebook had been the subject of a “14-month negative media campaign” in the state-controlled Vietnamese press before reaching the current stalemate.

When asked about Vietnam’s threat to shut down Facebook, the human rights group Amnesty International said that the fact that it had not yet been banned after defying threats from the Vietnamese government showed that the company could do more to resist the lawsuits. from Hanoi.

“Facebook has a clear responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate in the world and Vietnam is no exception,” said Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty regional deputy director of campaigns. “Facebook is prioritizing profits in Vietnam and does not respect human rights.”

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