Vietnam took Facebook’s local servers offline early this year to pressure the company to “significantly” increase censorship of anti-state posts for local users, Reuters reported. State-owned telecom providers took the servers down for around seven weeks which made Facebook unusable at times. This was reportedly done to force the company to increase its “compliance with legal takedown orders”, a source had told Reuters. Facebook confirmed the move to Reuters.
Vietnam’s cybersecurity law, which came into force on January 1, 2019, requires companies to remove content that the government deems as “toxic” and compels them to hand over users’ data if asked to do so, and forbids users from spreading “anti-state” or “anti-government” information. At the time, Facebook had said that it was committed to protecting the rights of its users and enabling their freedom of expression. Under the law, tech companies must also have local offices in Vietnam.
This incident sets a dangerous precedent where cutting off access to basic infrastructure can be used as leverage to bring social media companies to heel if they don’t comply with a government’s authoritarian orders. India is also contemplating mandating data localisation of certain kinds of data under the proposed Personal Data Protection Bill.
On February 12, Facebook had banned pages and fake accounts linked to Viettel, Vietnam’s biggest telco which is owned by the state and operated by its Ministry of Defence. These fake pages were posing to be critical of the company’s rivals and were spreading unfounded claims of the competitors’ failures, market exits and fraudulent activity. This was one of the first instances of Facebook taking action against a business for disinformation tactics.