LIV’s Third Virtual Seminar Examines Vietnamese Government’s Manipulation of Online Discussion

The third and final session of LIV’s online seminars on Vietnam’s Internet freedom occurred on July 2, 2024.

The guest speaker was Dien Luong, a PhD student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Dien is a renowned scholar and researcher with numerous publications on geopolitics and social media, online censorship, Big Tech-government relations, and the changing media landscape in Southeast Asia. His work has also appeared in several prominent outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Nikkei Asia, the HuffPost, the Guardian, and the South China Morning Post, among others. The seminar was hosted by Trinh Huu Long, LIV co-founder and editor-in-chief of Luật Khoa Magazine.

Dien’s presentation focused on the tactics employed by the Vietnamese government to censor and direct online discourse in the country. More specifically, he delved into the operations of Force 47 and Task Force 35, two cyber units under government control that shape public opinion by disseminating propaganda, silencing dissenting opinions, and censoring narratives that differ from the government’s official position. 

During the first half of his presentation, Dien briefly spoke about public opinion shapers, Force 47, Task Force 35, and the roles they perform on behalf of the Vietnamese government. He described public opinion shapers as diverse volunteers from all walks of life who provide pro bono work for the Vietnamese government. Force 47, he explained, is a cyber unit with 10,000 “professional defense officers” backed by the Ministry of National Defense.

According to Dien, Task Force 35 is a larger cyber force operating on a much broader scale than public opinion shapers and Force 47, with units at every administrative level of the Vietnamese government. Theoretically, this extensive reach enhances their ability to influence public opinion. Dien emphasized that all three groups work to spread pro-regime propaganda, attack government critics, debunk and remove information deemed “false” or “toxic,” and protect national prestige.

In the latter part of the seminar, Dien discussed anti-state content and provided several examples of Vietnam’s cyber unit operations. He provided Hanoi’s definition of “anti-state content” as material that undermines national prestige and tarnishes the reputation of the Communist Party and its leaders. Dien also noted that Facebook and TikTok are the primary platforms where Vietnamese censors operate and flag these content for removal. Afterward, he illustrated the cyber units’ activities by examining the online backlash against the Netflix shows Little Women, MH370: The Plane That Disappeared, and Pine Gap.

LIV’s three-part online seminar series was held alongside the release of its latest report titled, “Foreign Tech Companies in Vietnam: Challenges and Failures in Upholding Human Rights,” which delves deeper into the concepts and ideas presented during the seminars. 

The report can be accessed here


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