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Vietnam plans 24 hour take down law for illegal social media content

Vietnam is preparing new rules requiring social media firms to take down content it deems illegal within 24 hours, three people with direct knowledge of the matter. The planned amendments to current law will cement Vietnam, a $1 billion market for Facebook, as one of the world’s most stringent regimes for social media firms and will strengthen the ruling Communist Party’s hand as it cracks down on anti-state activity.

The 24-hour time frame to take down illegal content and services will not have a grace period, while active illegal livestreams must be blocked within three hours. Companies that do not meet the deadlines could see their platforms banned in the country. Social media companies have also been told content that harms national security must be taken down immediately. Social media platforms often have a few days to handle requests from the Vietnamese government. The amendments, which have not been made public, are expected to be signed by Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh.

This article declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue. Representatives for Facebook-owner Meta Platforms Inc and Alphabet Inc, which owns YouTube and Google, declined to comment. TikTok, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, will continue to comply with applicable local laws to ensure TikTok remains a safe space for creative expression, its Vietnam representative Nguyen Lam Thanh. Also, they added that it would take down content that breaks platform guidelines. Most governments do not have laws imposing the taking down of content on social media firms, but Vietnam’s move comes amid intensifying crackdowns in some parts of the world on online content that have alarmed activists. Indonesia’s government is also preparing to impose a similar 24-hour time frame for government requests. India requires government requests to be met within 36 hours.

Vietnam, with a population of 98 million, is among Facebook’s top 10 markets by user numbers with 60-70 million people on the platform. The country generates around $1 billion in annual revenue for Facebook and is more profitable than many European markets. YouTube has 60 million users in Vietnam and TikTok has 20 million. Twitter is not as popular as most Vietnamese see it as an English forum. But the market poses ethical quandaries. Vietnam’s Communist Party tolerates little criticism and the country’s courts have handed out lengthy jail terms 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 up by national guidelines on social media behaviour in June last year. In 2020, Facebook agreed to significantly increase the censorship of “anti-state” posts for local users after Vietnamese authorities slowed traffic to its platform and threatened to shut it down entirely. Facebook said that at the time it had reluctantly complied with the government’s request to “restrict access to content which it has deemed to be illegal”. The planned changes stem from the government’s dissatisfaction with current take-down rates for its requests.

In addition to removing illegal content, the government wants social media firms to change algorithms to limit content concerning sexually suggestive material, gambling and the sale of unregulated medicines and supplements. The government is also keen to take down accounts of celebrities it believes are using their influence to sell unsuitable products, defame others and promote false charitable causes. Social media firms will have difficulty complying with take-down requests in 24 hours. They noted that while obvious infractions of their own company rules like depictions of extreme violence can be handled very quickly, other requests take longer to assess and finding qualified staff is a challenge.

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