Meta, the parent company of Facebook, announced that the company has removed a network of commentators’ websites that specialize in attacks on activists and voices critical of the Vietnamese government, according to Reuters.
The People’s Army (QDND) page reversed this information, saying that “Facebook strongly removed the account against the Vietnamese government,” but later the article was deleted.
David Agranovich, head of Facebook’s global threat prevention committee, told Reuters on December 1 that the company had removed a network of accounts from the social networking platform because it said it was targeting Vietnamese activists who criticize the government.
This group is different from the opinion group called “Force E47” which Facebook removed in July, still according to Reuters.
Agranovich told Reuters: “What we discovered was a system of private pages (accounts) in Vietnam that worked together to destroy the accounts of dissidents and others who openly criticized the government.” However, he did not reveal the name of this group.
“Those attackers used their Facebook accounts to submit hundreds or thousands of reports against their targets, through Facebook’s built-in reporting tools,” he said.
Agranovich added: “Many individuals use fake accounts minimizing the accounts of their targets and then they report the target’s real account as the impostor account.”
The fighting world rejoices
Activists in Vietnam expressed their joy when Facebook took action to remove commentator pages.
From Hanoi, activist Nguyen Vu Binh told VOA:
“The online community and activists like us are very happy that Facebook has finally realized that it is wrong to let attackers target those who speak the truth and criticize the government.”
From Khanh Hoa, freelance journalist Vo Van Tao commented to VOA:
“When I heard that news, I was very excited because that means Facebook has woken up or someone has pointed out to Facebook their mistakes to fix, to respect the freedom of speech of all.
Facebook’s statement surprised me a bit because for a long time, on the online community, public opinion criticized Facebook for having an unfair and unjust attitude when it came to the will of the Vietnamese government. Now, Facebook has announced that it deletes the accounts of commentators, ie employees of the Vietnamese government, military, and security of Vietnam.
The Vietnamese government reported the opposite
On December 2, the People’s Army (QDND) page posted an article titled “Facebook strongly removes accounts against the Vietnamese government” writing that “Facebook has deleted a series of accounts on its system. when thinking that these accounts are anti-Vietnamese.”
The article also cited a Reuters report, citing David Agranovich, but added that “Facebook has also become a platform for those who oppose the state, spread rumors, and fake news.”
By the end of December 2, the morning of December 3, the article on the QDND page was no longer accessible.
However, the Militia and Self-Defense (DQTV) page until the end of December 3 still kept the article of the Vietnam People’s Army page.
Commenting on the propaganda of the People’s Army, Mr. Vo Van Tao said:
“QDND newspaper said the opposite, saying that Facebook was talking about dissident accounts. I am not surprised by this because the propaganda information given by the state media is not reliable.”
“Vietnam’s propaganda system specializes in lying, untruth, and distortion,” said Mr. Nguyen Vu Binh.
General Secretary of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong was included in a list of 37 heads of state in the world deemed by the RSF to be “predators of press freedom.”
On July 9, 2021, Facebook said it had removed a number of Facebook accounts and groups related to 47 commentators, still according to Reuters.
Among the groups removed was the E47 group identified as having ties to the military’s Force 47.
“The E47 team has mobilized members including those inside and outside the military to report content on Facebook to the company to remove these content,” Reuters said.
Force 47, established in 2016, is an online combat force of the Vietnamese Army with a number up to thousands of people and is responsible for “monitoring and posting content on Facebook groups to protect the position of the Communist Party of Vietnam.”
This force is one of the most numerous and has the most complex network of influence in Southeast Asia, according to social media researchers.
Unlike in China, the Facebook network is currently unblocked in Vietnam, where there are around 70 million users of Facebook, a major platform for e-commerce in Vietnam.
But Facebook has also become a major platform for dissidents. Facebook helps them convey dissenting voices, but it is also the reason why many activists are imprisoned because they are labeled by the government as “anti-State.”
The Law on Cybersecurity and Force 47 are seen as tools to help the government in Vietnam tighten online censorship, according to international human rights organizations.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the top targets of Force 47’s attacks are bloggers and online dissidents.
Vietnam’s state-controlled media said that Force 47 is the “nucleus” of fighting in cyberspace, “both party-loving and professional” and “with a firm stance, qualified and skilled in using high technology.”