Vietnam PM gives up on Facebook ban

2015-01-16 16:00
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Facebook. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

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Hanoi - Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has conceded it is impossible for the communist country to ban social media, urging officials instead to embrace websites like Facebook to spread the government's message.

Sites such as Facebook have at times been difficult to access in Vietnam, an authoritarian country which routinely imprisons bloggers and dissidents for criticising the regime.

"You here have all joined social networks, you've all got Facebook up on your phones to read information. So we must make this information correct," Dung told senior officials on Thursday, the Thanh Nien newspaper reported.

"We cannot ban it," he said at the meeting in Hanoi.

Over the last few years, Vietnam has had one of the fastest rates of Facebook uptake in the world, and now around a third of the country's population of 90 million have an account on the social network.

The government has always denied blocking the site, and for at least a year Facebook has been easily accessible in Vietnam without a VPN or other measures.

Rare move

Dung said top officials need to use social media to engage with the population more.

"We must publish accurate information online immediately... Whatever is being said online, people will believe official information from the government," he said.

Vietnam's communist party controls all newspapers and television networks, and many citizens prefer to get their news online from blogs or social media, which contain less propaganda.

But the quality of the blogs and social media postings is uneven. Some dissident-run sites offer nuanced reporting on sensitive political topics, other online commentators spread sensational rumours.

Last week, in a rare move, authorities denied widespread rumours that a popular senior communist party official Nguyen Ba Thanh, a former top official in central Danang City, had been poisoned with radioactive material by a political rival.

"Incorrect information creates social distraction," Dung said, adding that the government would ask ministries to address incorrect information circulating online.

In the past, Dung has driven through bans on particular blogs, but the move has usually backfired, triggering a surge of interest in the prohibited sites.

The harassment, arrest and prosecution of online activists remain widespread in Vietnam, which is holding scores of bloggers in jail, according to watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

The one-party state is regularly denounced by rights groups and Western governments for its intolerance of political dissent.

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