A new report, published by Amnesty International, has accused tech giants Facebook and Google of “far-reaching complicity” for their role in enabling the repression of dissent in Vietnam.
The 78-page report states that Facebook and YouTube are complicit in “censorship and repression on an industrial scale”, calling their operations an “alarming sign” of how these companies continue to function under repressive authoritarian governments.
In April 2020, Facebook complied with a government request to significantly increase its censorship of “anti-state” posts for local users, with Vietnam threatening to shut it down if it did not bow to government pressure.
The release of Facebook’s latest Transparency Report demonstrates this compliance, with a 983% increase in content restrictions compared with the previous reporting period, from 77 to 834.
Vietnamese Information Minister, Nguyen Manh Hung, has said that the removal of “bad information, propaganda against the Party and the State” is higher than ever and that Facebook and Google were complying with 95% and 90% of censorship requests, respectively.
The use of vaguely worded laws, such as “ abusing democratic freedoms”, as a means of censoring content, is causing a reduction in the use of platforms such as Facebook, with Nguyen Van Trang, a pro-democracy activist now seeking asylum in Thailand, saying:
“I have lost faith in Facebook, so I don’t post much anymore.”
The Vietnamese government’s campaign of repression has seen the number of individuals imprisoned for their use of social media increase rapidly. Nearly 40% of the 170 Vietnamese prisoners of conscience are imprisoned as a result of their social media activity.
Additionally, of the 27 prisoners of conscience jailed in 2020, 21 were prosecuted as a result of their peaceful online activity, with Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns, saying that,
“For every prisoner of conscience behind bars, there are countless people in Viet Nam who see this pattern of repression and intimidation and are understandably terrified about speaking their mind.”
She went on to say that, despite freedom of expression flourishing over the past decade on these platforms, more recently they have become:
“hunting grounds for censors, military cyber-troops and state-sponsored trolls. The platforms themselves are not merely letting it happen – they’re increasingly complicit.”
In a country that ranks 175 out of 180 on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, the importance of social media platforms that do not bend to the will of the government cannot be understated – companies, including Facebook and Google, have a responsibility to respect freedom of expression in their moderation of content, wherever they operate.