It would be almost impossible to discuss media freedom in Vietnam without first reviewing the country’s political situation over the past year. The authoritarian state created a narrow window of opportunity for non-state and independent media to grow over the years, despite state censorship.

Title: VIETNAM: The Net as the New 'Battlefield'
Publish Date: May 6, 2019
Publisher: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)


What frustrates Vietnamese Facebook users the most about this phenomenon is that Facebook has refused to explain its decisions, which it considers to be final. Affected users have been unable to find out the specific “community standard” they were accused of violating, even after they had appealed their cases.

The standards that Facebook has been using, however, appeared even more arbitrary when coupled with the operation of its unknown, undisclosed third party’s fact-checkers. For example, in March 2019, Facebook deleted four articles from the fan page of Luat Khoa online magazine for violating its “community standards”. It has yet to give further explanation for its action. The titles of these four pieces are: “US-China’s trade negotiations: America wants China to scale down its cybersecurity law” ; “Vietnam owes Cambodia an apology”; “A look at different ‘isms’”; “Donald Trump’s life story: Crisis and a father’s safety net”.

Over 17,000 people signed an online petition initiated by Luat Khoa in July 2018, asking Facebook to provide its position on the new cybersecurity law. A summary of the signatures was gathered and sent to Mark Zuckerberg by FedEx delivery in October 2018. Yet, the company to this day remains unresponsive. Mai Khoi, a Vietnamese dissident singer, wrote on her Facebook page in January 2019 that although she had met with several people at Facebook to discuss these issues, it did not lead to any substantial progress.

Intimidation offline continues

Journalist Pham Doan Trang can barely claim even cold comfort, however, for facing “only” increased intimidation and threats from the government during this past year. The actions of the government against her seem to be connected to her publication of her books. To date, Trang has written and published three books on the topics of politics, policymaking, and criminal procedures.