HANOI—Young Vietnamese netizens are managing to find ways to keep using the social networking site Facebook, despite a government bid to block it.
Facebook is still a favorite Web site among young people, especially Vietnamese teens, who quickly found circumvention software to get around government blocks imposed last November.
While many in neighboring China use a vast array of tactics to get over their country's “Great Firewall" and view material relating to China's civil rights and social justice activists, Vietnam has seen an explosion in the number of people signing up for Facebook groups.
The purpose of these groups, observers say, isn’t quite clear.
“Some groups are nonsense,” one student from Hanoi’s Foreign Trade University, identified as Hien, said.
“For example, I know of a group named ‘Hanoi Cultural Events’ that very few people have joined.”
Other groups, according to Hien, include “Setting up a Camp for What?”and “People Who Like to Sleep Late.”
“I don’t know what those groups are for,” Hien said.
Other Vietnamese Facebook groups include the “Lazy Group,” with 5,412 members, and “Handsome Men & Beautiful Women Who Wonder Why They Have No Lovers,” with 1,195 members.
Hanoi-based student Minh Tam, an administrative member of one group on Facebook, said some people simply have eccentric interests.
“Some people have very strange interests, but sometimes they can find a couple of hundred people who have the same interest,” Tam said.
“They look for people who have similar interests by setting up a group to discuss that interest. Sometimes those interests are very strange to others but very normal to them,” he said.
Vietnam’s Facebook group titles range from the slightly strange—“Young People Who Are Sensitive Every Time the Weather Changes”—to the more disturbing, such as “People Who Want to Die But Lack the Courage to Commit Suicide.”Lonely youth
Hanoi-based psychology lecturer Vo Van Nam said the proliferation of such groups is a symptom of growing isolation among young people.
“Young people feel lonely and isolated nowadays—no one shares things with them,” he said.
“To relieve the loneliness and isolation, they must find friends who have the same interests to talk to and to share things with each other ... The positive aspect is releasing their loneliness and isolation, but the negative side is that some groups are nonsense,” he added.
Not all are dark or feckless, though.
Many are set up by charities and aim to promote social activism online.
Such groups, including “Taking Action Together for a Green Vietnam” and “The Change Group” have garnered extra members from their presence on Facebook.
Others are more political, like the nationalist “Paracel & Spratly Islands Belong to Vietnam,” or the group set up to “detest” the state-run Internet service provider, FPT.
But Nam said such groups are unlikely to help people’s self-development in the longer term.
“[They are] just for entertainment purposes,” Nam said.
“Even though the purpose is to provide relief, it doesn’t actually relieve at all because common interests are not the nature of human personality.”
“Eventually, they fall into lonelier and more isolated moods,” he said.
“The lonelier they are, the more they look for friends and groups to join. The result is more groups and associations pop up that don’t solve any problems. This is the tragedy of young people nowadays.”‘Click fraud’
The Vietnamese government denied blocking Facebook last year, saying instead that it was working on resolving “technical issues” with the site.
Vietnam is also home to a fast-growing number of netizens engaged in developing “click fraud” programs, automated clicking on advertising on social media sites to deplete the budget of the organization paying for it.
Online intelligence group Anchor said it had detected a “dramatic upsurge” in attempted click fraud in the United Kingdom since the end of last year, with most of the activity originating in Vietnam.Original reporting in Vietnamese by Khanh An. Vietnamese service director: Khanh Nguyen. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.