Vietnam has accused Facebook of violating a new cybersecurity law by refusing to scrub anti-government content from its site, the first reprimand since the controversial bill came into effect days ago. The law, which went live January 1 and has drawn criticism from the US, the EU and web freedom groups, requires internet companies to remove “toxic content” and hand over user data when requested by authorities.
It also stipulates that companies should host servers in the one-party state — including banks and e-commerce companies — sparking fears of data and privacy breaches and cybersecurity threats. State broadcaster Vietnam Television reported Wednesday that Facebook failed to take down pages allegedly calling for anti-government activities, citing requests from the Ministry of Information and Communications.
The ministry sent several letters and emails requesting the removals, according to the report. But Facebook “delayed and even failed to remove information, claiming the information did not violate community standards,” VTV reported. Vietnam also accused the company of hosting advertisements for “illegal products” including counterfeit money, fake goods, weapons and firecrackers, the report added. The ministry could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The consequences for violating the law are expected to be laid out in a decree which has yet to be made public. Vietnam has said the bill is designed to improve cybersecurity in the country, but critics say the legislation — which mirrors China’s draconian internet rules — is aimed at silencing online dissent.
In a statement to AFP Wednesday, Facebook said it is “transparent about the content restrictions we make pursuant with local law in our Transparency Report”. “We have a clear process for governments to report illegal content to us, and we review all these requests against our terms of service and local law,” a spokeswoman told AFP.
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Social media is a crucial platform for activists in communist Vietnam, where all independent press and public protests are banned. Facebook is by far the most popular tool for activists, though several have complained to AFP in recent months that posts have disappeared and accounts been blocked.
Unlike in China, social media and instant messaging services like WhatsApp are not banned, and analysts say the cybersecurity law is a means to control online expression without banning services — a move that would likely cause widespread outcry.
There are more than 53 million Facebook users in Vietnam — over half of the population — many of whom use the site as a crucial platform for business and commerce.