Content restrictions rising . . .
On Monday, Amnesty International released a report accusing Facebook and Google of taking part in state censorship in Vietnam by agreeing to requests from the Vietnamese government to censor posts. In April, Facebook announced that it would “significantly increase” its compliance with the Vietnamese government’s censorship requests, allegedly due to threats that Facebook would otherwise be shut down. According to Facebook’s own Transparency Report, the platform has restricted content in 834 posts in the first half of 2020, compared to just 77 posts in the second half of 2019 – an increase of nearly 1,000 per cent. Vietnam’s Information Minister stated in October that Facebook complied with 95 per cent of the government’s content restriction requests in 2020. Google has complied with 90 per cent of such requests.
Facebook’s significant presence in Vietnam . . .
Facebook and YouTube (owned by Google) are the two most popular social media platforms in Vietnam. In 2018, Facebook’s revenue in Vietnam was approximately C$1.3 billion, almost one-third of the company’s revenue in Southeast Asia. During the same period, Google’s revenue was about C$614 million. In its new report, Amnesty said the two companies were initially seen as “the great hope for the expansion of freedom of expression in the country,” but are now “fast becoming human rights-free zones, where any peaceful dissent or criticism of the Vietnamese government is liable to be censored.”
Setting a dangerous precedent . . .
Vietnam has little tolerance for political dissidence, and jailing government critics is not uncommon. Amnesty found that the number of jailed critics is the highest since 1996, when the organization began tracking this information. There are currently 170 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam – 69 of whom are in prison “solely for their social media activity.” Facebook is also involved in censorship in Thailand, having complied with requests to block access to an anti-monarchy Facebook group with over one million members. As Amnesty outlines in its report, governments worldwide could see these actions as “an open invitation to enlist Facebook in the service of state censorship” – which could set a dangerous precedent.