Vietnam's Insane Ban on Sharing News Online

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Nov. 1 2013 12:13 PM

Vietnam's Insane Ban on Sharing News Online

120771925
A policeman tries to stop a foreign journalist from taking pictures outside the 2011 trial of Pham Minh Hoang, a French-Vietnamese lecturer and blogger.

Photo by IAN TIMBERLAKE/AFP/Getty Images

To say Vietnam has a troubled relationship with the Internet would be an understatement. Despite government efforts to repress it, social media, especially Facebook, is immensely popular in Vietnam, with an estimated 70 percent penetration of the total Internet-using population. (About one-third of Vietnam's 90 million people are online.) Like many countries, Vietnam is apparently trying to incubate its own Silicon Valley, and there are homegrown social media sites like Zing Me and HaiVL.

But authorities have so far been unable to replicate China’s Great Firewall to block content unfriendly to the regime, and have been cracking down on online dissidence the old fashioned way—harassment and arrests. In other words, “shoot the messenger,” according to Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. It’s estimated that Vietnam has imprisoned 46 bloggers and activists so far this year, second only to China, and it’s ranked 172nd out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.

Advertisement

The regime’s desire for strict control of online information flares regularly. In October, on the same day that a Vietnamese man was convicted for Facebook posts that called for the release of his brother, another activist took to Facebook to broadcast news of his detention by police.

Dinh Nhat Uy’s campaign for the release of his brother, a jailed activist, resulted in a 15-month suspended sentence for four Facebook posts in which he was "abusing democratic freedoms", according to Reporters Without Borders.

Meanwhile, friends of pro-democracy blogger Nguyen Lan Thang posted a video on Facebook after he was detained at Hanoi airport, in which he stated "When you see this video, it's certain that I have been arrested by security forces." Earlier this year, American officials made their displeasure known when a US-trained human rights lawyer and popular blogger, Le Quoc Quan, was sentenced to a 30 months in jail, on tax charges believed to be politically motivated.

Perhaps most astoundingly, in an effort to protect the power of state-run media and crack down on the sharing of controversial views, Vietnam has passed a decree banning the sharing of news online. The law, which came into effect in September, makes it illegal for social media users to post information gathered from almost all news sources in the name of “national security” and preventing copyright infringement.

The broadly written legislation states, "Personal electronic sites are only allowed to put news owned by that person, and are not allowed to ‘quote’, ‘gather’ or summarise information from press organisations or government websites," according to Hoang Vinh Bao, head of the Department of Radio, TV and Electronic Information. It’s also illegal to provide on social media "information that is against Vietnam, undermining national security, social order and national unity ... or information distorting, slandering and defaming the prestige of organisations, honour and dignity of individuals."

For the average American, whose Facebook feed is stuffed with angry uncles posting Fox News videos about Obamacare, the possibility of being arrested for sharing news clips would be shocking. It also doesn’t bode well for Vietnam’s Silicon Valley attempt. But as more and more Vietnamese go online, the ability of the government to ensure that its citizens find only “correct and clean information on the internet” cannot be long for this world.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Ariel Bogle, a contributor to Future Tense, is an associate editor at New America.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.