Facebook removes accounts targeting critics of Vietnam’s government

Hanoi falsely claims affected users were ‘anti-state’ actors.
Facebook removes accounts targeting critics of Vietnam’s government Woman holds smartphone with Facebook logo in front of a displayed Facebook's new rebrand logo Meta in this illustration picture taken October 28, 2021.

Facebook’s parent company removed a network of accounts on the platform that coordinated attacks against Vietnamese activists who criticized the government, but Hanoi said the removed accounts belonged to “anti-state” elements.

In its Adversarial Threat Report published Wednesday, Meta said users of the accounts abused Facebook policy by “mass reporting,” which is an organized effort to flag content with the intent of getting its author’s account suspended. The accounts in this case targeted anti-government posts.

“The people behind this activity relied primarily on authentic and duplicate accounts to submit hundreds — in some cases, thousands — of complaints against their targets through our abuse reporting flows,” the report said.

“Many operators also maintained fake accounts — some of which were detected and disabled by our automated systems — to pose as their targets so they could then report the legitimate accounts as fake,” Meta said.

Hanoi falsely said that the removed accounts belonged to “anti-state” elements. The Vietnamese state-run People’s Army newspaper on Thursday quoted Meta’s Threat Disruption Director David Agranovich as saying in an interview with Reuters that the removed accounts “tended to target social activists and the government of Vietnam” and opposed “the Vietnamese government’s decisions and policies.”

Agranovich had actually said, “What we saw was a network of accounts in Vietnam that was engaged in this kind of coordinated targeting of activists, and other people who publicly criticized the Vietnamese government.”

An activist who was targeted by the mass reporting attacks applauded Meta’s purge of the abusive accounts.

“I am very glad that Facebook did this. Facebook knows better than anyone who is using their account to fight for humanitarian, freedom, democracy and human rights purposes and who is focusing on sabotaging us,” Nguyen Van Dai, founder of the Brotherhood of Democracy activist group, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

Dai said abusers were able to get his account suspended on five separate occasions since the beginning of the year. Each lockdown lasted about a month.

“The fact that they removed the network has brought a joy to me personally and to those who are fighting for freedom and democracy inside and outside Vietnam,” Dai said.

“I hope this is not the first and the only action Facebook will take. They have to do this regularly and they have to follow the accounts that often report violations.

In December 2020, Amnesty International released a report titled “Let Us Breathe,” which denounced the Vietnamese Government's crackdown on freedom of expression on social media, including campaigns that reported Facebook users for community standards violations.

The Vietnamese Government has admitted the existence of Force 47, an influencer army that fights for pro-government causes in cyberspace. 

Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers and Facebook personalities, as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January.

This year, police have arrested around 40 political dissidents, charging most of them with "disseminating anti-state materials,” according to RFA reports.

Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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