Military-based cyber warfare unit to clean up the internet.
Vietnam is reportedly in the middle of deploying a 10,000 members strong military-based cyber warfare unit to combat what the government has claimed is the growing threat from “wrongful views” by its population, according to several news agencies.
The news, while a slap in the face for its citizens is sadly, not surprising. Vietnam has one of the highest adoption rates of social media per head of population in the world, but has also earned a reputation for harsh restrictions on freedom of speech.
Almost 63%of Vietnam’s 90 million citizens now have access to the net. The country is one of the top 10 countries for Facebook users by numbers alone, however the government is dealing with online dissent harshly. It’s preferred vision of the internet would be one where Western social media companies like Facebook and Google offer their services at a national level, instead of international, and thus limiting what parts of the world wide web its citizens can access.
The hiring of an online censorship army has drawn comparisons between China and its Great Firewall, and also North Korea. Lieutenant General Nguyen Trong Nghia, the deputy head of the Vietnamese military’s political department, is said to have officially declared the existence of the censorship army over Christmas. “Such a strong growth rate does both good and harm to the country,” he said referencing the rapid growth of the internet within the country. “On the negative side, the enemy takes advantage of the internet to create chaos….In every hour, minute, and second we must be ready to fight pro-actively against the wrong views,”
Social media giants operating in the country have so far refused to base local servers there, despite several requests and threats by the government. However, Facebook has deleted 159 accounts in recent times and YouTube has removed 90 percent of flagged videos, according to the Vietnamese government own reports. Both tech companies have not commented on these asserted facts.
The news of the online army is just the latest of moves by the Vietnamese government in recent months to silence its own internal critics. A court last month jailed a blogger for seven years for “conducting propaganda against the state”, and in another case an appeals court upheld a 10-year jail sentence for another prominent blogger.