One of the problems with China’s extensive and invasive internet control and censorship is just how efficient it is, thus “inspiring” many other countries around the world to either try to copy, or implement it in one way or another, to serve their particular situation and goals.
This appears to have manifested in Vietnam, whose authorities are said to be invested in fostering nationalism online, but also carefully monitoring social media in the hope of controlling content and narratives.
In 2016, Vietnam put to work 10,000 people making up the Force 47 cyber unit that is supposed to maintain a “healthy” online environment and, since late 2018, the country has had a unit whose task is to monitor the internet, sifting through up to 100 million news items every day in search of “misinformation”.
As in China, tight control over social media is needed to prevent actions such as protests.
“As long as collective action is prevented, social media can serve as a pressure release valve for public opinion or even leave some elbow room for online activism,” writes Dien Nguyen An Luong, a visiting fellow with Singapore’s ISEAS institute.
He mentions several instances of protestations generating online outrage and eventually resulting in real-world consequences.
An example is the huge diplomatic row between Vietnam and Cambodia on one side and Singapore on the other, after the latter’s prime minister made comments regarding Vietnam’s role in removing the Pol Pot regime and the Khmer Rouge denounced on social media as offensive.
What these examples show is that Vietnam’s authorities have become highly sensitive and accommodating to nationalist opinions and backlash expressed online.
But given that this is happening at a time of a planned leadership reshuffle, the authorities seem to want to follow the popular sentiment as much as to lead, by means of controlling online space, apparently in the same vein as what is happening in China.