During the recent question and answer session at the 10th session of Vietnam’s National Assembly, Minister of Information and Communications Mr. Nguyen Manh Hung said that in the last 2 years, Vietnam’s social network there is a growth that, in his words, is a “breakthrough” with more than 800 social networks. In 2018, Vietnam’s social networks had 47 million accounts, but so far it has risen to 96 million (!?).
Speaking to Radio Free Asia on November 11, 2020, from Vietnam, Mr. Diep Quang Van, owner of social networking site ‘Việt Nam Ta’, said:
“Those social networks also don’t have any development, just like ours, because Facebook is too strong. People say Vietnamese sites have mostly virtual nicknames. If you care, Facebook also won’t even have that number. Some statuses have several thousand likes after a few minutes and the number is not real. In fact, they are not developed, people in the profession will know about the number of real interactions. That’s like a drama.”
According to Mr. Diep Quang Van, a few social networks have functional activities such as Facebook and VietnamTa. There are sites that ask for permission for launching their social networks, but it’s just like a forum page, where many people go to trade and but are also considered social networks. According to Mr. Diep Quang Van, the websites having interactions in the true sense of social networks are very few, only counting on the fingers. Regarding the number of users of Vietnamese social networks announced by Minister Hung, Mr. Diep Quang Van said his estimation:
“Vietnam social network cannot have 90 million users, even Facebook may not have 90 million accounts in Vietnam. Even one individual has dozens of Facebook accounts, just having one email account for every Facebook account, and they are trading accounts. Most young people use Facebook but few old people use this social network. As for Vietnam’s social networks, they can never reach that number, people just post ads, or unsubscribe, but not use regularly.”
This is not the first time, Minister Hung has made eloquent statements about the social network “Made in Vietnam.” While still acting as Minister of Information and Communications, Mr. Hung expressed his desire to develop the social network “Made in Vietnam” so that the government can negotiate and force Facebook and Google to comply with Vietnamese laws more.
In June 2019, a brand new social network “Made in Vietnam” was launched, named “Hahalolo” with the ambition of having 2 billion users in the next 5 years, and at the same time listed on the US’s NASDAQ Stock Exchange.
Whether Hahalolo will develop as this representative said, or will have the same fate of other Vietnamese social networks such as Zingme, Go.vn, Tamtay.vn or BizTime of CEO Vu Van Anh which stated that in 6 months would knock Facebook out of the Vietnamese market but remained unoperational long time ago.
On June 11, 2019, the Central Commission of Education and Propaganda of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam also launched the social network system – VCNET, which the government considers an effort to get close to the people. The public at that time doubted that VCNET could be a strategy to increase control of social networks.
On July 22, 2019, Gapo became Vietnam’s newest social networking site, being launched after more than four months of investment, with the expectation that there will be 20 million users by 2021.
Up to now, after the public launch, private and state social networks are almost forgotten, not appearing in the press as in the early days.
A resident in Saigon, when answering Radio Free Asia, said:
“I think Facebook is enough, there’s no need to be a Vietnamese social network … I think Vietnam should not narrow itself down … I think Vietnam should connect with many countries.”
A resident in Hanoi who did not want to name for security reasons told Radio Free Asia:
“I use Facebook with Instagram, I know the Vietnamese social networks such as Gapo and Lotus, but they are not popular yet … they try to follow in the footsteps of Facebook, but Facebook is now the biggest.”
The Vietnamese government, in the desire to control foreign networks such as Facebook, Google, Netflix, Apple, etc., has regularly introduced laws and decrees to force these providers to comply with Vietnam’s laws and regulations if they want to do business in Vietnam.
The Ministry of Information and Communications said that in 2019, it forced Google to block more than 7,000 video clips, remove 19 channels with allegedly malicious content on YouTube. In addition, it also asked Facebook to remove 208/211 alleged fake accounts, 2,444 links for sale, advertising illegal products and services, more than 200 links with articles that distorted the Party and the State and violated Vietnamese law, etc.
Recently, Minister Hung also said that his ministry forced Facebook to remove 286 accounts that were alleged to be fake in 2020. Of these, 50 were said to be fake accounts of party and state leaders. The remainder is the account that Mr. Hung said is propagating “fake, bad, poisonous information which incites anti-state activities.”
Activist Tran Bang, when answering Radio Free Asia on 11/11, commented:
“Obviously, we are critics, whose voices reflect the voices of the people, for example, when the protests are not reported by the state-controlled media or social networks. We have to use Facebook or Youtube because if we use the Vietnamese network, they will block it. The angry stories about social issues such as the land disputes in Loc Hung, Thu Thiem, Dong Tam, etc. in which the victims screaming frantically are true but never being reported by social networks run by the regime. The regime considers anti-government and would imprison the victims.
According to activist Tran Bang, that news would be reported widely by social networks in countries that respect human rights such as the US and the EU’s countries. He continued:
“So from that, it leads the government’s willingness to ban foreign social networks or strictly control them, forcing them to comply with the Law on Cyber Security. In my opinion, if they block erotic images or images of China’s U-shaped line, I think it is right. But blocking dissenting voices, which are many, is very disadvantageous for Vietnamese people because they cannot access multi-dimensional information from the people themselves, as well as the international response to the people. The communist government has an interest in blocking foreign networks or controlling too harshly.
The Law on Cyber Security was passed by the National Assembly of Vietnam in June 2018 and came into effect on January 1, 2019. This law requires service providers to disclose user personal information if the Vietnamese authorities request. This is what critics have said that the law is intended to suppress peaceful criticism.
Most recently, on August 28, 2020, the Department of Radio, Television and Electronic Information issued a written request to Netflix Company to immediately remove films with content that violates Vietnam’s sovereignty, violate the laws of Vietnam, and terminate the display of Vietnamese translation in movies, which Netflix provides to users in Vietnam.
Lawyer Dang Dinh Manh, when answering RFA on this issue, previously said that it is unreasonable to interfere with Netflix’s content and distribution, because this is a private relationship. Furthermore, such government requirements show that it does not imply anything about the law or protection of the interests of consumers. Even according to him, it goes against the interests of consumers in this case.
According to the attorney, the thinking of those who give controlling opinions in this way is extremely old. In fact, it is ineffective, because firstly, according to him, it is not only Netflix that brings movies to viewers in Vietnam but there are many sources. Second, the authorities’ opinions show that they seriously disregard the understanding of the Vietnamese public which can evaluate a publication whether it is guaranteed regarding the local customs or political lines … Lawyer Dang Dinh Manh said that the users themselves will have choices, not necessarily the state gives options for them.