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Vietnamese netizens declare war on Facebook

Rows over both a territorial map and suppression of free speech plague the social media mammoth
Vietnamese netizens declare war on Facebook

Vietnamese activist La Viet Dung holds up a phone showing an open letter to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg in Hanoi on April 10. The letter accused Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg of colluding with communist authorities to scrub out online dissent. (Photo by AFP)

Published: July 11, 2018 10:12 AM GMT

Some social media users in Vietnam have been angered by Facebook's response to a map on its advertising tools showing the controversial Spratly and Paracel islands as part of neighboring China.

However, in a parallel row, there are complaints that Facebook has succumbed to Vietnamese government pressure to block criticism of it.

In relation to the territorial map dispute, on July 3, Vietnamese state-run media reported that Facebook had, following complaints, removed the archipelagoes from Chinese territory.

Facebook was quoted as saying it had been made aware of the issue and corrected the problem caused by the "wrong" use of a map.

However, internet users discovered that Facebook, the American social media giant, had removed the islands from the map of China for people accessing it via internet connections in Vietnam but not for users elsewhere.

Facebooker Khanh Nguyen, who has 86,800 followers, accused Facebook of lying. "For money, you are betraying yourself and your great country," he wrote.

Khanh said Facebook on July 5 removed the islands from maps of both China and Vietnam, something which apparently failed to appease nationalists in both nations.

Around 53 million Vietnamese, or more than half of the Southeast Asian country’s population, use Facebook, according to the state-run Tuoitre newspaper.

Meanwhile, rights advocate Father Anthony Le Ngoc Thanh said there has been a big online exodus from Facebook to other social media platforms to seek free expression and access to information, including to Minds.com, which is also U.S-based.

The priest, whose Facebook account was closed down in April, expressed concern that Facebook was joining with the Vietnamese government to inhibit citizens' freedom of expression.

He said many Facebook users had been threatened by pro-government activists, including members of so-called "red flag" groups.

Last month, law student Truong Thi Ha accused the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City of failing to protect her from a police beating for protesting against a new cybersecurity law. She said her post was deleted by Facebook administrators without explanation.

Father Thanh, who shifted to minds.com, said the worst aspect was that Facebook had not stood up for users in Vietnam who contributed to its US$17 billion 2017 profit.

The priest directly criticized Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerburg over collaboration with Vietnamese authorities.

Vietnam is the world’s 10th largest purchaser of advertisements on Facebook.

Father Thanh said Vietnamese users planned to protest against Facebook suppression of free speech by periodically going offline.

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