Flight from Facebook over security scare

Vietnamese activists fear that Facebook is not resisting government attempts to spy on them

A trickle of Vietnamese people abandoning Facebook is becoming a flood amid fears that the company will comply with a government drive to control data and spy on its critics.

Tens of thousands of Vietnamese have signed up to the social networking platform, Minds, in the last few days following the passage of a new cyber security law through the National Assembly.

Some Vietnamese bloggers and social activists say that Facebook has already deleted posts and accounts in apparent response to government pressure, even though the new law does not come into effect until next year.

The law requires foreign based companies to store data within Vietnam and open local offices in the country, making them more susceptible to government pressure.

Silicon Valley companies, including Facebook and Google, have yet to say whether they will comply with the new requirements.

However, some activists say they have already lost confidence in Facebook as a reliable platform that will defend free speech and resist threats from a Communist party determined to crush online dissent.

Pressure from governments

The CEO of Minds, Bill Ottman, said that tens of thousands of Vietnamese had opened accounts with his company in the last few days.

“The service is encrypted so it is impossible to spy on them and hand over any information,” he said in an interview with the BBC.

Minds has a free speech policy that means anything that is legal in the United States can be posted online, unlike Facebook and other platforms which are under increasing pressure from governments around the world to comply with local laws and requirements.

Minds also allows posts to be seen by all followers rather than a selected few chosen by algorithm as is the case with other sites, seen as a major advantage by Vietnamese activists attempting to reach the largest possible audience.

Facebook grew with explosive speed in Vietnam in recent years, becoming the social network of choice for activists seeking to critique and challenge the Communist party.

The Vietnamese government, however, has fought back with increasing vigour since leadership changes in 2016, imprisoning prominent bloggers, setting up an army unit of cyber warriors to combat negative comments, and putting increasing pressure on foreign companies.

Observers warn that the new cyber security law could harm growth in a key sector of the economy.

They believe that businesses could avoid Vietnam because of its increasingly repressive laws and intolerance of dissenting opinions.