Vietnam’s New Social Media Policies: Put On a Happy Face

Vietnam launched a new code of conduct on Friday aimed 🏹at social media. The guidelines encourage citizens nationwide to post only content that describes the country in a positive manner. The newly implemented changes require state officials to report content that conflicts with the code of conduct, such as any criticism of the country.

The ruling Communist Party of Vietnam does not permit much criticism, holds strict control over the country’s media. It has conducted a strong crackdown on dissidents and activists over the past years. In fact, some of these individuals are currently serving jail time for their content posted on Google, Facebook, and YouTube. 

This new code of conduct is in line with that approach. It implements changes that restrict posts that have what Vietnam says is a negative impact on the interests of the state. These new rules apply to all state organizations, social media platforms, and all users in the country 🧑🏽‍🤝‍🧑.

So, what does this mean for users and social media companies? Here’s what this move means for the Vietnamese—and why the global community should pay attention. 

What the Code of Conduct Entails

Vietnam’s Information Ministry established the new code of conduct on June 17, 2021. The code states that all social media users are expected to promote the beauty of the country’s scenery, people, and culture. The code also encourages users to spread ethical stories that shed a positive light 🌞 on the country and its people. 

This newly established code of conduct encourages Vietnamese citizens to create accounts on social media using their actual identities. Posts should share data from credible sources and steer clear of content that breaks the law, such as vulgar language or unlawful services.

The new code of conduct doesn’t just apply to individuals. It requires social media platforms available in Vietnam to adhere to Vietnamese laws. This means Vietnamese authorities can request that the companies remove 🗑️unflattering content from their platforms. But it’s not clear how this new decision would be enforced and to what extent it is legally binding. 

According to reports last year, Vietnamese authorities threatened to close down Facebook in the country. Vietnam wanted Facebook to redact the country’s more local political content from the public in order to stay operational. This was an issue for Facebook because, according to research statistics, Vietnam plays a major role in Facebook’s market presence. The platform caters to around 60 million users and generates an income of almost $1 billion annually. 

Vietnam’s Prior Social Media Crackdown

Vietnam first established laws on social media and cyber-security in 2019. These laws required social media companies to adhere to local law within Vietnam, including requirements of opening offices and storing user information within the country. Also, a separate ruling dictates that operating licenses can be suspended for up to two years if platforms break the law. They can do this by failing to censor content at the request of the Vietnamese government.

Towards the end of 2020, Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communication stated that Facebook and YouTube agreed to censor thousands of objectionable user-generated 💻 posts. The companies were responsible for deleting hundreds of accounts, pages, and channels that contained content with a negative voice towards the Party and the State.

Transparency reports released by Facebook and Google revealed that the platforms deleted hundreds of posts to comply with Vietnam’s requests. Facebook stated that it restricted access to content that opposes the Communist Party and Vietnam’s Government. Google also released a statement, saying that it removes content that is considered a breach of local laws. It further reported that most government requests being concerning political reasoning and assessment. 

The Domestic and Global Reaction

Vietnamese social media users did not happily accept the new restrictions. Following an official ban on predictions ahead of a Party Congress, social media users got creative. They made use of inaccurate weather reports 🌡️ and football scores to covertly discuss Communist Party leadership arguments. But as Vietnam catches on to such tactics, it updates social media laws to increase compliance requests.

Outside of Vietnam, the global community has voiced staunch criticism of the situation. At a U.S. Congressional hearing in November 2020, Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn accused Facebook of choosing profit over principle by removing user-generated content. Facebook was been doing this, not just in Vietnam, but in Russia and Turkey as well at the request of their respective governments.

To make matters worse, Facebook is facing lawsuits and harsh scrutiny over various other issues. These include privacy breaches and inflated advertising metrics.

The Vietnamese government sees this move as in the best interests of the country and its citizens. They expect social media platforms to comply with requests to remove any user-generated content that can harm the image of the country. And social media platforms are willing to comply with these requests and laws, since Vietnamese users contribute to the companies’ revenue and user traffic.

What Will Happen Next?

The social media companies could face suspension of operations in the country if they don’t comply. But critics argue that by complying, these companies are voicing their tacit approval of 🤫censorship. 

In the US and many other countries, free speech is taken very seriously. If you have had any of your content from social media removed or experienced any sort of censorship, consider reaching out to an attorney. A social media attorney can assist you by providing legal guidance and outlining the best course of action to protect your right to free speech.