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Vietnam plans 24-hour takedown law for ‘illegal’ social media content

HANOI/SINGAPORE: Vietnam is preparing new rules requiring social media companies to remove content they deem illegal within 24 hours, three people with direct knowledge of the matter have said.

Planned amendments to the current law will cement Vietnam, a billion-dollar market for Facebook, as one of the world’s toughest regimes for social media companies and strengthen the Communist Party’s stranglehold on power as it represses “anti-state” activities.

The 24-hour deadline for removing “illegal content and services” will have no grace period, while active “illegal livestreams” must be blocked within three hours, the people said. Companies that fail to meet the deadlines could see their platforms banned in the country, they added.

Social media companies have also been told that content that harms national security must be removed immediately, according to two of the people and a third source.

Currently, social media platforms often have a few days to process requests from the Vietnamese government, the sources said.

The amendments, which have not been made public, are expected to be signed by Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh next month and implemented from July, five people said.

Sources who spoke to Reuters for this story declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue. Vietnam’s communications and foreign affairs ministries did not respond to requests for comment.

Representatives for Meta Platforms Inc, which owns Facebook, and Alphabet Inc, which owns YouTube and Google, declined to comment. Twitter Inc said it had no immediate comment.

TikTok, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, will continue to abide by applicable local laws to ensure TikTok remains a safe space for creative expression, its Vietnamese representative Nguyen Lam Thanh told Reuters, adding that it would remove content that infringes. platform guidelines.

Most governments do not have laws mandating the removal of content from social media companies, but Vietnam’s move comes amid an escalating crackdown in some parts of the world against online content that has alarmed consumers. activists.

The Indonesian government is also preparing to impose a similar 24-hour deadline for government requests, sources told Reuters.

India requires government requests to be met within 36 hours.

A MAJOR MARKET

Vietnam, with a population of 98 million, is among Facebook’s top 10 markets by number of users with 60 to 70 million people on the platform, according to company data in 2021.

The country generates about $1 billion in annual revenue for Facebook and is more profitable than many European markets, according to people familiar with the matter.

YouTube has 60 million users in Vietnam and TikTok has 20 million, according to 2021 government estimates. Twitter is not as popular as most Vietnamese consider it an English forum.

But the market poses ethical dilemmas. Vietnam’s Communist Party has little tolerance for criticism, and courts across the country have handed down long prison sentences to dissidents and activists for posts critical of the government on Facebook and YouTube.

Government efforts to exert control over online content have only intensified. A cybersecurity law introduced in 2019 was followed by national guidelines on social media behavior in June last year.

In 2020, Facebook agreed to dramatically increase censorship of “anti-state” posts for local users after Vietnamese authorities slowed traffic to its platform and threatened to shut it down completely, officials previously told Reuters. company sources.

Facebook said at the time that it had reluctantly complied with the government’s request to “restrict access to content it deemed illegal”.

DIFFICULT TO IMPLEMENT

The planned changes stem from the government’s dissatisfaction with current rates of withdrawal of its applications, the sources said.

According to data from Vietnam’s Ministry of Communications, in the first quarter of 2022, Facebook responded to 90% of government takedown requests, Alphabet 93% and TikTok 73%.

The sources said that in addition to removing “illegal” content, the government wants social media companies to change algorithms to limit content about sexually suggestive material, gambling and the sale of drugs and drugs. unregulated supplements.

The government is also keen to remove the accounts of celebrities it believes are using their influence to sell inappropriate products, defame others and promote bogus charitable causes, they said.

Social media companies will struggle to comply with takedown requests within 24 hours, the sources added.

They noted that while obvious breaches of their own company rules, such as depictions of extreme violence, can be dealt with very quickly, other requests take longer to assess and finding qualified personnel is a challenge.

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