Vietnam Restricts Advertising on Social Media Over Claims of Anti-Government Content

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With over 100 billion global Internet searches being conducted every month, it is safe to say that the Internet is a world in itself. Within the past decade, it has become the place to go to get information on anything and everything, but it has also changed the journalism industry forever.

But for some regimes that want to restrict the information their citizens can see online, the Internet can be a large problem. Vietnam, a communist country, falls under this category.

Angered over “offensive” content, the government of Vietnam has called on all companies doing business in the country to stop advertising on YouTube, Facebook, and other social media sites until they can get the content under control. The government started pressuring large global brands like Unilever, Ford, Samsung, and Yamaha Motor to stop posting advertisements online because the Vietnamese government cannot remove them. Technically, they were not posted within the country’s borders.

Vietnam’s goal is to have all advertising, both foreign and domestic, comply with their strict standards. They already have control over the two largest Vietnamese advertising firms, Vinamilk and Vietnam Airlines, but have been increasingly frustrated over toxic content posted by “foreign dissidents.”

Despite airing their grievances last month, Vietnam officials said the response from Google and the other brands was not good enough. Information and Communication Minister Truong Minh Tuan explained that the country found about 8,000 anti-government adds on social media, yet Google only removed 42.

Perhaps Vietnam should consider this: a full 70%-80% of users ignore the paid ads in search engines and focus on the organic results. Of course, only 75% of users will scroll past the first page of search results, which makes the ads a prime target for a government trying to monitor everything and anything their residents see online.

Tahn made a public statement calling for these large brands to stop advertising altogether, despite the financial hit it would cause Youtube and Facebook. Today, Facebook and YouTube make up two-thirds of the overall digital media market in Vietnam.

So far, Unilever, Ford, and Yamaha Motor have all agreed to suspend their advertising via YouTube videos.

In response to the request to pull videos, YouTube released a statement saying:

“We have clear policies for removal requests from governments around the world. We rely on governments to notify us of content that they believe is illegal through official processes, and where appropriate, will restrict it after a thorough review.”

Generally, YouTube does not block content; they believe it violates the right of free speech and free press. The company says it takes situations like this seriously, but cannot promise results.

Facebook has yet to respond to this request.

Vietnam has routinely come under fire from Western countries and human rights organizations for its Decree 72 on social media. This law prohibits any information from being posted online that is anti-government, damaging to national security, or destroys national unity in any way. Since they are such a restrictive country, there are no specific standards for these categories, leaving it up to government workers.

Even though the digital market in Vietnam is small, it is one of Asia’s fastest growing sectors, and many believe that it will soon be a hot investment spot for multiple global consumer brands. There is hope that these global brands can bring new ideas into the country, and perhaps cause the government to lessen their harsh Decree 72 standards as a result.

However, what’s strange is that despite these restrictions, Vietnam is still trying to foster a bustling Internet presence.

Jeff Paine, managing director of the Asia Internet Coalition, which works with advertising companies within the country, tells Business Insider that multiple businesses thrive within Vietnam, as long as they comply with governmental standards. But since this is such a fine line, the group hopes the country treads softly.

“It is critical for the Vietnamese government to protect the open nature of the Internet, and put in place the right conditions that incentivize investment and nurture innovation,” Paine said.

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