“Let us breathe!”
In Viet Nam, platforms like Facebook and YouTube have become hunting grounds for government censors and state-sponsored trolls.
And the companies aren’t just letting it happen: they’re increasingly complicit.
Amnesty International’s new report, “Let us Breathe!”, documents the systematic repression of peaceful online speech in Viet Nam.
Through dozens of interviews with activists, lawyers and journalists from Viet Nam, we’ve investigated the widespread “geo–blocking” of content deemed critical of the authorities. At the same time, groups affiliated to the government deploy sophisticated online campaigns on the platforms to harass everyday users into silence and fear.
Find out more below and sign our petition to tell Facebook to stop supporting censorship!
I have lost faith in Facebook. We have been stripped of our ability to express our opinions.Nguyen Van Trang, Vietnamese activist now seeking asylum in Thailand
Tell me more:
Imagine if you spent years and years growing your Facebook account, posting and writing about your passions for democracy, but then in one easy act, Facebook just erases all the work you have done over the years.Nguyen Van Trang
Based on dozens of testimonies and evidence, Amnesty International’s report shows how this censorship operates.
In some cases, users see their content censored under vaguely worded local laws, including offences such as “abusing democratic freedoms”.
Facebook and YouTube then “geo-block” content, meaning it becomes invisible to anyone accessing the platform in Viet Nam.
Why is this happening?
In April 2020, Facebook announced it had agreed to “significantly increase” its compliance with requests from the Vietnamese government to censor “anti-state” posts. They justified this by claiming the Vietnamese authorities were deliberately slowing traffic to the platform as a warning to the company.
Last month, Facebook revealed a 983% increase in content restrictions based on local law in Viet Nam, as compared with the previous reporting period.
Meanwhile, YouTube has consistently won praise from Vietnamese censors for its relatively high rate of compliance with censorship demands. In October, Viet Nam’s Information Minister, Nguyen Manh Hung. was quoted by state media as saying that compliance with the removal of “bad information, propaganda against the Party and the State” was higher than ever, with Facebook and Google (which owns YouTube) complying with 95% and 90% of censorship requests, respectively.
Human rights, not market access, should be the priority
In 2018, Facebook’s income from Viet Nam neared US$1 billion – almost one third of all revenue from Southeast Asia. Google earned US$475 million in Viet Nam during the same period, mainly from YouTube advertising.
The size of these profits underlines the importance for Facebook and Google of maintaining market access in Viet Nam.
But companies Facebook and Google – have a responsibility to respect all human rights wherever they operate. They should respect the right to freedom of expression in their content moderation decisions globally, regardless of local laws that muzzle freedom of expression.