Human rights activist blogger Nguyen Van Hai with the prominent nickname “Dieu Cay” has lived in exile in the US for more than six years. Since then, he has remained involved in administering the website of the Free Journalists Club. In addition, he also participates in a program of SBTN television channel in Orange County in California. On the occasion of visiting SBTN radio during a trip to Orange County in early February 2021, special envoy Thanh Phuong had the opportunity to interview blogger Dieu Cay.
In an interview with RFI Vietnamese language, Mr. Nguyen Van Hai mentioned the difficulties of the current struggle online and especially the differentiation of the democracy movement in Vietnam due to the impact of fake news, especially special focus in the recent US presidential election. Here we invite you to follow the interview.
RFI: How about your life now?
Blogger Dieu Cay: Since I came to the present, I have focused on monitoring the situation in the country, and administering a number of sites established by the Free Journalists Club, and with some brothers in the country we have some online forums. The media networks we set up also generate quite a large amount of readers, and are active for many years. Recently, the group page “Lều của đầy tớ/Servants’ houses” at its peak had more than 74,000 members, and at times around 62,000, it was closed by Facebook. We still haven’t got it back yet. But in terms of the struggle situation on social networks, there are also many difficulties, because of the management of Facebook, as well as the attack of the Vietnamese communist government on Facebook, these sites’ activities, were limited.
RFI: So, you must have followed the situation of Vietnam over the past time, especially before the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam, with many people being arrested and prosecuted. From the outside, what is the reason for such persecution, or is it a normal development prior to a party national congress?
Blogger Dieu Cay: Before every National Congress, they all sought to block free voices and arrest activists. But in the past few years, especially during the tenure of Nguyen Phu Trong and Tran Dai Quang up to now, the Vietnamese communist government has become a police regime, and the repression is most severe. During the party congresses, people found that many people with a voice on free forums were controlled and persecuted. But especially this year, repression is more severe. The journalists were suppressed with very heavy sentences like just now, the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam with three members, namely Mr. Pham Chi Dung, Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Mr. Le Huu Minh Tuan being sentenced to a combined total of 37 years in prison for three people. Then some groups like the Constitution group and some more groups were also prosecuted, with heavy sentences. So the movement faces many difficulties.
RFI: How do arrests like that affect the operation of the Independent Journalists’ Association?
Blogger Dieu Cay: The website of the Independent Journalists ‘Association of Vietnam is managed from the outside, some key voices were arrested, but the organization’s website continues to operate.
RFI: The main weapon of democracy activists is social networking sites, as you said at first, many websites, many articles were blocked or removed by Facebook, are they blocked by the orders of the Vietnamese government?
Blogger Dieu Cay: The Vietnamese government uses many tools, not only pressuring Facebook to place a server in Vietnam, but they also require Facebook to comply with the law of Vietnam, and even Facebook also said that they abide by local laws, in some matters. That is the difficulty for democracy fighters. Most recently, the communist government has taken a technical approach. When Facebook servers rented bandwidth to transmit information into the country, the bandwidth was squeezed to pressure Facebook, causing Facebook to deal with, having to place a new machine in Taiwan.
RFI: That is not to mention the world in general, and for Vietnam’s social networks in particular, there is a lot of fake news. There have been many YouTube pages, Facebook pages about the situation of American politics, and the US election situation, with two candidates for Republicans, Mr. Donald Trump, and Democrats, Mr. Joe Biden. Does fake news have much impact on the websites of democracy activists?
Blogger Dieu Cay: It has a lot of impacts, it has a very heavy impact. Because it divided the movement in Vietnam and the foreign-based Vietnamese diaspora. Vietnamese communities in America are also divided, American society is divided, by fake sources, such as malicious sources. We are here, engaged with SBTN doing “Facing the Truth.” Every period of the program, details of the problem, how these fake news were being spread in the community, and the harm of fake news to the community is. Another thing is young overseas Vietnamese set up a page “Interpreters” to publish translated news from news reports of many major newspapers around the world, conveying information to the community. It serves as mainstream information, to deal with fake news.
And the way of the Vietnamese authorities, the Russian, Chinese, and Iranian governments is that they break into this fake news network, they amplify that fake news, mainly to manipulate American society, divide the society. American Association, which has the goal of differentiating ethnic communities. And the Vietnamese are one of the communities most divided by fake news.
RFI: I feel especially the participation of a lot of Vietnamese newspapers called Dai Ky Nguyen. Where did this newspaper come from, by who advocated, why did they propagate such fake news?
Blogger Dieu Cay: The New York Times has conducted investigations related to the Epoch Times network, including The Epoch Times, Trí thức Vietnam, Tan Duong Nhan, all of Epoch Times’ fake news networks. The question here is where are the resources that Falun Gong can do such a thing? Even buying a million-dollar ad on Facebook.
We find that, firstly, the New York Times investigation also questioned where the resources came from, and how Falun Gong and the Epoch Times are related. The many, skilled, online fighters know that, when the Epoch Times was in operation in the US, it needed two roles. The first role is the anti-Communist, it hides in Epoch Times, or it borrows the name Epoch Times. Second, it has another role of supporting President Donald Trump. But its main job is to attack opposition parties. In many elections, the opposition Republican or Democrat candidates, it is normal to support one side or the other, and after the social election, it returns to normal. However, in this wave, due to the impact of fake news, even the election was over, fake news still spread, causing chaos in American society, causing a lot of social division in American society.
Thus, the goal of fake news is for the people to lose faith in the US press system first, and second to lose faith in the US government, to lose faith in democracy, and to differentiate American society. All of those goals, when they achieve them, who benefits? Only the communist governments of China and Vietnam and Russia are benefiting in that regard. The question is, what tricks does the Epoch Times network use?
The New York Times investigation also pointed out that, as using artificial intelligence technology, to get through the identity phase, to create thousands of fake Facebook pages, to use those pages to spread fake news, and at the same time using the “click farm” technique to generate more views and readers. But actually, the number of viewers and readers is fake. They use those pages to let visitors click back to the website of the parent site. Therefore, Dai Ky Nguyen became the site with the largest number of visitors in Vietnam, but this is visiting a Chinese website. I see this as a media defect that we need to be aware of.
RFI: You said that fake news has a very heavy impact on democracy activists, as well as on the social networks and information pages of democracy activists. Specifically, how does this differentiate?
Blogger Dieu Cay: It is very common for people to support one presidential candidate or another, but the problem is the fake information network, which direction it leads the supporters to go, and the trend leads is the dangerous one. The danger is, hiding under the guise of supporting President Donald Trump, but the aim is to make people lose faith in American society, in American democracy, and some of the brothers fighting for democracy at home, some famous bloggers have shared fake news from Epoch Times, Epoch Times, and Tan Duong Nhan, along with very absurd “conspiracy theories.” At the same time as spreading such fake news, some brothers turn to attack other activists who spread true information. Because, in order to spread fake news, one must attack the real information. This is only natural.
But if Epoch Times, or virtual nicknames, the communist government’s public opinion nicknames they do it, is one thing. But it is very bad that democracy activists spread fake news. It would cause great damage to the movement, dissolves the movement, and thereby weakens the movement. That is the dangerous thing.
RFI: After such arrests and prosecutions, can the democracy activists abroad help the movement in the country?
Blogger Dieu Cay: In a free Internet environment, you can still contribute, as long as you are interested in the movement or not. As for the contribution, we remain in contact with the families of prisoners of conscience and arrested brothers. We do not ignore that problem but usually transmit information to the US congressmen.
For example, when the Dong Tam incident happened, I, along with my brothers in the country, like Mr. Nguyen from Houston, joined the Action group for Dong Tam. In the country, the brothers made reports about Dong Tam, through the source of Dong Tam’s relatives, to the families of Can Thi Theu and Pham Doan Trang in the country. We are out here conveying such information to the congressmen, as well as the persecution of the brothers. I pass the information on to international organizations, the US State Department, to advocate for them.
RFI: Currently, America has a new president, Democratic President Joe Biden. Can the new government help promote the democracy movement in Vietnam, help promote respect for human rights in Vietnam?
Blogger Dieu Cay: I think this is good news for democracy fighters in Vietnam. Because before, during the Democratic administration under President Barack Obama, many Vietnamese people were released from prison. Because the commitments of the US government and the Vietnamese government both have human rights conditions in them. And thanks to that, many of the brothers were released from communist prisons. The Obama administration is also very concerned about democracy in Vietnam. The second thing is, in this coming new administration, on the side of the US State Department, previously someone who was a deputy secretary, is now the secretary of state. And some of my friends in the State Department have also returned to work. They were very knowledgeable about the Vietnamese situation, and when they returned, Vietnamese issues were not new to them. And that is advantageous, we can talk about democracy and human rights issues with them. They are the ones who deeply understand these issues in the 8-year term of President Obama before. This is good news.
Hope the issue of democracy will be paid more attention to. As we can see, President Joe Biden spoke immediately after the coup in Burma, or about the issues in Hong Kong, Xinjiang in China. We see a favorable trend.
RFI: Thank you very much.