Vietnam says Facebook steps up local content restrictions

HANOI (Reuters) - Facebook is restricting access to increasing amounts of content in Vietnam, a government official said on Thursday, as the Southeast Asian country ramps up a campaign to tighten access to the internet.

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of the Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The social media platform is widely used in Vietnam where, despite sweeping economic reform and increasing openness to social change, the ruling Communist Party continues to censor media tightly and does not tolerate criticism.

“Facebook now meets 70 to 75% of the Vietnamese government’s requests, compared to around 30% earlier, information minister Nguyen Manh Hung said at a parliament meeting in Hanoi.

Hung was referring to government requests for Facebook restrictions, meaning a piece of content posted to the website which cannot be viewed in some countries because it is deemed to violate local laws.

Facebook said in May it had increased the amount of content to which it restricted access in Vietnam by over 500% in the second half of 2018.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Vietnam has been tightening internet rules over the last few years, culminating in a cyber security law which came into effect in January and which requires companies like Facebook to set up local offices and store data in the country.

Hanoi has in the past accused the U.S. social media giant of violating local laws by allowing subversive comments to be published on its platform.

Google’s YouTube now meets 80%-85% of the government’s requests, up from 60% a year earlier, Hung told the meeting.

He also said that Vietnam has built a center to monitor the content of news websites and social media platforms which can sort millions of data points into categories like “positive” and “negative”.

“The ratio of ‘negative’ information had been 30%, but now we’ve taken action that ratio has basically been brought to below 10%,” said Hung.

Separately, the information ministry has asked Facebook to disclose the identities of account users, initially in Hanoi, the capital, and Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s southern business hub, local media reported on Thursday.

Only authenticated accounts would be allowed to broadcast live video on the platform, the online newspaper VnExpress reported.

Nearly 10% of the 128 prisoners held in Vietnam for expressing dissenting views were jailed for posting anti-state comments on social media platforms such as Facebook, an Amnesty report said in May.

Reporting by Khanh Vu; Editing by James Pearson and James Drummond