For the longest time, the Vietnamese government has been trying to repress and block content that fuels online dissidence. To say Vietnam has a troubled relationship with the Internet would be an understatement.
However, authorities in Vietnam find it hard to deal with rumors and falsified information that have recently run rampant on social networks like Facebook.
According to news site tuoitrenews.vn, a senior police officer from the PC50 police unit of Hanoi’s Police Department, who wished to be anonymous told the news outlet that “it is difficult and complicated.”
Another high-ranking official from the PA83 police unit under the management of the Ministry of Public Security confirmed to Tuoi Tre newspaper that several individuals and organizations have used the Internet to their advantage to badmouth, slander, or humiliate others for their different purposes.
He said it is not easy to identify the offenders, especially those whose host computers are based in foreign countries but affirmed that police are hunting for them.
Various laws are in place, but hard to be enforced
November last year, two new fines have been introduced to further regulate Vietnam’s internet. The legislation, which will come into force in January, looks set to further narrow the space for online expression.
Decree 174/2013 (social media fine), follows up on Decree 72, which restricted the posting of news onto social media, but now it takes an even harder line with a fine of US$5,000. Comments that did not constitute criminal offences would trigger fines if held to be “propaganda against the state”, or spreading “reactionary ideology”, according to the law signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
While there are various laws in place, the regulations are loosely worded, and are hard to put in practice. For example, on February 21 this year, people in the central province of Quang Binh were terribly worried after reading a made-up story on Facebook about a fatal shooting that took place in the province.
Local man Ngo Dinh Son wrote on his Facebook page that after a collision between a truck and a Toyota Camry, the car driver shot the other driver and his assistant. He then fled the scene, leaving his vehicle behind, Son claimed, adding that the killings took place in Dong Hoi Town, the capital city of Quang Binh.
Son later confessed to local police that he posted the story on his Facebook to lure likes and people’s attention.
Despite the harmful effects of his action, Son was merely fined VND25 million or $1,185 for “disseminating false information and rumors on the Internet to cause bad influences on public opinions,” according to local police.