from the demanding-the-impossible-for-fun-and-profit dept
Feeling the crunch of this economy? Why not leverage government power to create a sustainable revenue stream? That’s the plan in Vietnam, a country not unfamiliar with regular deployments of censorship efforts by the government.
The Vietnamese government keeps the internet — and its citizens — on a short leash. Only so much free expression is allowed and that “free” expression had better steer clear of criticizing the government. The government literally polices the internet with a 10,000-employee strong internet task force that monitors the internet for “wrongful views.” It also leverages social media companies’ built-in tools to silence dissent.
To maintain control on citizens’ speech, the government has demanded foreign platforms maintain a local presence in the form of Vietnam-located data centers. It also is quick to complain when it feels foreign internet services aren’t as responsive to its censorship demands as it would like.
As has been noted multiple times here at Techdirt, moderation at scale is impossible. And every new demand for government makes it just that much more impossible. This matters not to the Vietnamese government, which apparently believes it can turn this truism into cashable checks, according to this Reuters exclusive.
Vietnam is preparing new rules requiring social media firms to take down content it deems illegal within 24 hours, three people with direct knowledge of the matter said.
The planned amendments to current law will cement Vietnam, a $1 billion market for Facebook, as one of the world’s most stringent regimes for social media firms and will strengthen the Communist ruling Party’s hand as it cracks down on “anti-state” activity.
To ensure foreign platforms remain solid revenue streams, there will be no grace period granted to those who can’t find and/or eliminate the offending content within 24 hours. The proposed law also makes platforms subject to fines for not removing “illegal livestreams” within three hours.
This law would allow the Vietnamese government to print (foreign) currency. On top of these impossible demands lies another demand that is at vague as it is profitable.
Social media companies have also been told content that harms national security must be taken down immediately, according to two of the people and a third source.
National security is in the eye of the government beholder, which means social media services won’t necessarily know what to take down until they’ve been informed they’re already in violation of the super-vague law. Win-win for cash-strapped autocrats. Lose-lose for unhappy citizens with their representation and foreign companies who have yet to exit the Vietnamese market.
Why is this happening? Well, it looks like further censorship and rent-seeking from the Vietnamese government. It’s not like US companies haven’t done what they can to satiate the censorial regime.
According to data from Vietnam’s communications ministry, during the first quarter of 2022, Facebook complied with 90% of the government’s take-down requests, Alphabet complied with 93% and TikTok complied with 73%.
Not good enough, says a government that has found compliance to be unprofitable. The only solution — at least when you’re looking for sustainable revenue streams — is to create impossible situations that can be turned into fines, fees, threats, and excuses to craft even more impossibilities to the future loss of income as exit companies the market or refine their algorithms.
This is Vietnam soaking the rich in the most self-serving way possible. It allows the government to dip into platforms’ billions while censoring criticism of the government by its population. Vietnam’s government has never cared what the rest of the world thinks about it, much less how its citizens feel about its overreach. With this proposal, it has the tools to stay funded while deliberately (and lawfully) ignoring criticism.
Filed Under: content moderation, illegal content, intermediary liability, national security, vietnam
Companies: facebook, google, tiktok, twitter