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Facebook is censoring journalists and activists in Vietnam, report says

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Flickr/Brian Solis, www.briansolis.com and bub.blicio.us.)
April 13, 2018

Dozens of journalists and human right advocates in Vietnam have formally accused Facebook of inappropriate censorship in an open letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, BuzzFeed News reported this week.

Facebook has recently come under fire from groups in countries such as Myanmar and Sri Lanka over the platform’s moderation policies. Critics have been outspoken about Facebook’s lenient policy in dealing with accounts that aim to spread violence and attack minority groups.

Facebook has also been accused of censorship due to its cooperation with repressive governments. In Cambodia, government officials told BuzzFeed News they had a direct line to Facebook that allowed them to request accounts and posts to be taken down, including content critical of the prime minister.

Duy Hoang, an organizer with the pro-democracy group Viet Tan, told BuzzFeed News: “We’ve noticed a troubling increase in the number of activist Facebook pages taken down and content removed. We have evidence that government-sponsored trolls are behind the ‘abuse’ reports that led to the content takedown. Unfortunately, when activists contacted Facebook, they only received vague responses from the company.”

“We are concerned that Facebook is unwittingly helping the Hanoi authorities to censor free expression,” Hoang added.

According to BuzzFeed News, Facebook did confirm that the company works with civil society groups, as well as governments, and that they regularly challenge various requests that appear overly broad.

“We have a clear and consistent government request process, which is no different in Vietnam to the rest of the world, and we report the number of pieces of content we restrict for contravening local law in our Transparency Report,” a spokesperson for Facebook told BuzzFeed News when asked about the letter.

Hoang said that civil society groups like his used to have a good working relationship with Facebook. But Facebook representatives met with Vietnam’s Ministry of Communications and Information last April, where it was rumored that Vietnamese officials lobbied the social network on what they deemed as “toxic” content, including content critical to the state. The meeting was a direct result of the government pressuring local companies to pull ads from the site until Facebook addressed the toxic content.

Facebook insisted the meeting was to discuss policies, products and programs, and no policies were changed as a result of the meeting.

“We appreciate Facebook’s efforts in addressing safety and misinformation concerns online in Vietnam and around the world. Yet it would appear that after this high-profile agreement to coordinate with a government that is known for suppressing expression online and jailing activists, the problem of account suspension and content takedown has only grown more acute,” activists told BuzzFeed News.