Facebook becoming the ‘not-so-social’ network in Vietnam
A recent decree in Vietnam means that internet freedoms on social media are likely to be limited for citizens.
Social media has been a source of controversy when it comes to freedom of expression as the line surrounding what is and is not appropriate to share and say has been the subject of conversation for many. Twitter has deemed itself one of the premier defenders of free speech as the company's lawyer has fought in numerous cases defending users' post on the social media site, according to the New York Times.
The Internet should be a place where opinions and view points can be expressed openly and while there may be statements that are highly offensive, it is the place of the online community to say when a line has been crossed, not a country's government.
Vietnam's recent decree
This is why a recent decree by the Vietnamese government is so concerning, as it seeks to limit the kind of speech that is permitted on social media. Announced towards the end of July, Decree 72 bans the sharing of certain information on these networks, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The information has been termed as "compiled information," an ambiguous term that could include any number of different sources. The term is used in contrast to information that is specific to an individual, drawing yet another line internet freedoms that is hard to decipher.
According to the news source, this decree has been cause of criticism from a number of international governments and organizations. Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom group, was particularly critical of the decree.
"If it takes effect, Vietnamese will be permanently deprived of the independent and outspoken information that normally circulates in blogs and forums," said the organization. "The decree is both nonsensical and extremely dangerous. Its implementation will require massive and constant government surveillance of the entire Internet, an almost impossible challenge. But, at the same time, it will reinforce the legislative arsenal available to the authorities."
Reporters Without Borders explains that through the decree, the government would no longer have to charge independent newspapers and bloggers with crimes against the state as they could simply set a strong example on a few websites, which would subsequently create a pattern of self-censorship amongst the remaining publications.
Role in limiting government criticism
This would also work to limit the way in which news is disseminated throughout the country. Many people now are turning to Twitter and Facebook for their news about current events, be it authors or people simply reposting news articles. A former Vietnamese lawmaker believes that the decree is more geared towards limiting copyright violations, according to the Hollywood Reporter, however, given the past history of censorship in the country, which includes the removal of entire scenes from movies for portraying sex, this is unlikely the case.
Social media has been an instrumental tool in criticizing the government in recent days as indicated by the protests of the Arab Spring. According to CNN, social media's role during the various revolutions that occurred starting in December of 2011 has been prominent but complex. When they first began, no one polled thought the outlets were a trusted news source in the region, but as of 2013 that percentage has grown to 22 percent.
It was also instrumental in mobilizing groups of people for protests that brought people together from all over the region in unified dissent. If the decree in Vietnam proves successful, the constant monitoring of the internet could work to limit these various forms of government criticism, while doing so in the name of the law.
In an effort to stop the decree from going into effect, Reporters Without Borders has urged the international community to impose various economic sanctions on the country in hopes that it will force them to repeal the decree.