Home Nonmilitary action How Vietnam’s army of “influencers” engages in a Facebook information war

How Vietnam’s army of “influencers” engages in a Facebook information war

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A state media article from March 17, 2021 and a photo of a soldier belonging to the Nghe An provincial branch of the Vietnamese cyber-army “Force 47”, who received a certificate to carry out the activities of Force 47, 2021 It is displayed on the screen of this photo taken on July 8, 2014. TRUYENHINHNGHEAN.VN via .REUTERS

July 9, 2021

James pearson

Hanoi (Reuters) – In Vietnam, where the nation is battling political objections and fierce online battles, social media “influencers” are more likely to be soldiers than celebrities.

As the Vietnamese Army’s online information warfare unit is known, Force 47 is tasked with establishing, moderating, and posting a Facebook group in the home state to correct “mistaken views. In addition to its usual mission. It is made up of thousands of soldiers. online.

According to a Reuters review of state-level media coverage and dissemination of state-level media by the Army’s official TV channel, Force 47 has created hundreds of groups and Facebook pages since its inception in 2016, with thousands of pro-government articles. I published an article.

Social media researchers say the group may be Southeast Asia’s largest and most sophisticated influencer network. And now he is playing an important role in escalating the conflict with the country’s Facebook.

After being contacted by Reuters this week, the company deleted a group called “E47”, according to Facebook sources. The group mobilized military and non-military members to report and remove hated Facebook posts. The group is associated with a list of 47 Force groups identified by Reuters, sources said.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed that some groups and accounts were removed Thursday to “coordinate attempts to report large amounts of content.” According to a company source, the action was one of the largest deletions initiated under Facebook’s mass reporting policy.

However, many Force 47 accounts and groups identified by Reuters remain active. They are managed by users under their real names, so they don’t violate Facebook policies, company sources say.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry, which handles foreign media inquiries with the government, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the removal.

Unlike its neighbor China, Facebook is not blocked in Vietnam, which has 60 to 70 million users. It is Vietnam’s leading e-commerce platform, with an annual turnover of around $ 1 billion.

It has also become a major platform for the political opposition, with Facebook and the government embroiled in a constant battle to remove content deemed “anti-state”.

Vietnam has undergone drastic economic reforms and social changes over the past decades, but the ruling Communist Party has a good knowledge of the media and rarely disagrees.

Vietnam slowed down and explored Facebook’s local server traffic last year until it agreed to dramatically increase censorship of Vietnamese political content. A few months later, authorities threatened to shut down Facebook completely in Vietnam if they didn’t locally restrict access to more content.

In a statement to Reuters, a Facebook spokeswoman said the company’s goal was to keep its online service in Vietnam: “As many people as possible are speaking out, connecting with friends and making friends. business. We can exploit it. “

“We have been open and transparent about our decisions in response to the upsurge in attempts to block services in Vietnam,” a spokesperson said.

Dien Luong, a visiting scholar at the ISEAS-Yusofuishak Institute in Singapore, said Vietnam has no way of maintaining a Chinese-style “great firewall” and developing alternatives to local social media. ..

“This paved the way for Facebook to become the best platform for Force 47 to maintain the party line, shape public opinion and spread national advertising.”

“Competent and malicious”

There is no official definition of what constitutes “mistaken opinion” in Vietnam. However, activists, journalists, bloggers and, increasingly, Facebook users have all been sentenced to heavy prison terms in recent years for spreading their views against “anti-state propaganda” or those promoted by the government. left.

Last week, prominent activist Le Van Dung, who regularly broadcasts live to thousands of Facebook followers, was arrested after more than a month of execution, police said.

Dung passing by “Le Dung Vova” was arrested for “creating, maintaining and disseminating information, materials and objects for the purpose of opposing the state” under article 117 of the Criminal Code Vietnamese.

If found guilty, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

Force 47’s name comes from Directive 47, a policy document released by the Army’s General Political Bureau on January 8, 2016. Analysts say it was created instead of hiring an “opinion-maker.” private or “Dur Ambien”. He was operated on on a small scale with a low success rate.

Nguyen the Fong, a researcher at the Saigon International Research Center, said: “Force 47 is also cheaper. The military consider this part of their job and do not ask for compensation.

The size of Force 47 is unclear, but in 2017 Nguyen Trong Nghia, who was in charge of the unit at the time, said it had 10,000 “red and capable” members. The actual number can be much higher. A Reuters review of the known Force 47 Facebook group showed tens of thousands of users.

According to Facebook sources, the E47 group that took action was made up of active military and non-military personnel.

Nghia currently heads the party’s main promotional department. Vietnam’s Ministry of Intelligence recently promulgated a social media code of conduct similar to the Force 47 directive, urging people to post “good deeds” and banning anything that affects “national interests”. ..

“Struggle on the Internet”

In March, a conference was held at military bases across Vietnam to commemorate the five years since the founding of Force 47.

According to a Reuters analysis of these groups, state media reports on at least 15 Facebook pages and the meetings that named the group, they said, were managed by Force 47, which has a total of more than 300,000 subscribers. ..

The Force 47 soldiers appear to work alongside their regular missions, rather than a single army, creating region-targeted content, according to the report.

In addition to Facebook, Force 47 reports that in addition to creating anonymous Gmail and Yahoo email addresses, it will create accounts on Google’s YouTube and Twitter.

YouTube said it closed nine channels on Friday for violating its spam policy, including channels Reuters identified as suspected Force 47 operations.

According to Twitter, there was no Force 47 activity.

Many Facebook groups reviewed by Reuters have played patriotism under names such as “I love the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”, “Vietnamese Heart”, “Voices of the Fatherland” and “Believe in the Party”.

Some groups such as “Keep the Company with Force 47” and “Rose of Force 47” were apparently affiliated, but some groups such as “Pink Lotus” and some groups which used the name of the local town in the title. Is more subtle.

Messages varied and many praised the Vietnamese army, founding leader Ho Chi Minh, or party leader Nguyen Phu Trong. Others showed screenshots of “bad news” posted by other Facebook users, marked with a large red “X”.

Dhevy Sivaprakasam, Asia-Pacific Policy Advisor for Internet Rights Group Access Now, said:

“We are witnessing the creation of the reality that it is not safe for people to speak freely online and there is no concept of personal privacy.”

(Report by James Pearson, complementary report by Elizabeth Culliford in New York and Fanny Potkin in Singapore, edited by Jonathan Weber, Lisa Shumaker, William Mallard)

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