Vietnam's restrictive policy on press, free speech and expression makes Facebook the best alternative platform for citizens to let their voices be heard.  Recently, Facebook blocked and suspended accounts criticizing the government, but Legal Initiatives for VIETNAM co-founder, Trinh Huu Long said much as he dislikes Facebook, he will have to stick with them.


In a country with no independent media, Facebook provides the only platform where Vietnamese can read about contentious topics such as Dong Tam, a village outside Hanoi where residents were fighting authorities’ plans to seize farmland to build a factory.

Facebook, whose site was translated into Vietnamese in 2008, now counts more than half the country’s people among its account holders. The popular platform has enabled government critics and pro-democracy activists — in both Vietnam and the United States — to bypass the communist system’s strict controls on the media.

But in the last several years, the company has repeatedly censored dissent in Vietnam, trying to placate a repressive government that has threatened to shut Facebook down if it does not comply, The Times found.

In interviews, dozens of Vietnamese activists, human rights advocates and former Facebook officials say the company has blocked posts by hundreds of users, often with little explanation.

A man uses a laptop at a coffee shop in downtown Hanoi.

Facebook has also barred Hanoi’s critics — including a Southern California-based opposition group — from buying ads to boost readership and has failed to stop pro-government trolls from swamping the platform to get dissidents’ posts removed.

Instead of using its leverage as Vietnam’s biggest media platform to hold the line against censorship, Facebook has, in effect, become an accomplice in the government’s intensifying repression of pro-democracy voices, critics say.

Facebook usually restricts posts and users for one of two reasons — violations of its “community standards,” which are rules the company says apply to users worldwide, or “local laws.” Posts in the latter category are blocked in the country where they are illegal but remain accessible elsewhere.

Access Now, a digital rights group that assists users who believe their Facebook access has been improperly restricted, said the company rarely explains its decisions to block or restore accounts — except to say they violated community standards.

Trinh Huu Long, a Hanoi critic who lives in Taiwan and runs a nonprofit online magazine called Luat Khoa, said he began exploring other modes of distribution after Facebook repeatedly blocked articles that had nothing to do with Vietnam. But he determined that abandoning the platform would drastically shrink his readership.

“Facebook is the king in Vietnam,” he said. “Content has to go through Facebook to reach an audience. So, much as I dislike Facebook, I have to stick with them.”

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