LOCAL CENSORSHIP: Facebook said that Vietnam came to the company in an attempt to get it to restrict more content critical of the goverment, but Facebook said no

  • Reuters, HANOI

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

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

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

Photo: Reuters

“They have come back to us and sought to get us to increase the volume of content that we’re restricting in Vietnam,” the official added. “We’ve told them no. That request came with some threats about what might happen if we didn’t.”

The official said that the threats included shutting down Facebook altogether in Vietnam, a major market for the social media company.

It earns revenue of nearly US$1 billion, two sources familiar with the numbers said.

Facebook has faced mounting 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 has never been allowed to operate, such as China.

In Vietnam, despite sweeping economic reform and increasing openness to social change, the ruling communist party retains tight control of media and tolerates little opposition.

The country ranks fifth from the bottom in a global ranking of press freedom compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in response to questions that Facebook should abide by local laws and cease “spreading information that violates traditional Vietnamese customs and infringes upon state interests.”

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

In its biannual transparency report released yesterday, Facebook said that it had restricted access to 834 items in Vietnam in the first six months of this year, following requests from the Vietnamese government to remove content.

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

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

Facebook has long faced criticism from rights group for being too compliant with government censorship requests.

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

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