Two Vietnamese men were sentenced to six months in prison for posting locations of traffic checkpoints on Facebook.
The decision came this week after the men were in custody for four months for “illegally circulating information on the Internet.”
Their posts advised drivers how to avoid temporary traffic checkpoints in the city of Hai Phong.
Their lawyer calls the sentencing “a risky move.” And he says the men only used Facebook to express their views. He says the sentencing is a restriction of freedom of speech.
Jailing the men amplifies an ongoing debate about the role of social media sites like Facebook in Vietnam, where media is controlled by the government.
Media rights organizations like Reporters Without Borders call Vietnam “the enemy of the Internet” because of its online censorship and surveillance of sites like Facebook.
The government, however, says it wants to embrace social networks and use them to provide accurate information. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung says he wants citizens to be responsible Internet users.
Aside from the men who posted about traffic checkpoints, other people in Vietnam are using Facebook to make controversial posts.
In early December, Vietnamese police tracked down three teenagers who created a fake Facebook profile using the photo of an Islamic State terrorist.
Because of their age, the boys were not arrested. But the situation underscores how difficult it may be for the Vietnamese government to come up with good social media policy.
One media analyst, a former newspaper editor in Vietnam, says “the government is struggling to manage the use of Facebook.”
There are at least 30 million Facebook users in Vietnam. The government says it wants to encourage people to use the social media sites. But it says it wants to maintain control over what its citizens write.
Here’s another example of this debate:
The Vietnamese government launched its official Facebook page in October. But critics say it removes negative comments from the site.
“Now, when people can get access to impartial news and have the chance to give feedback, they [the government] are concerned,” the analyst says.
I’m Dan Friedell.
Trung Nguyen wrote this story for VOANews.com. Dan Friedell adapted it for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.
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Words in This Story
amplify – v. to make something stronger
censorship – n. the act of to examining books, movies, letters, etc., in order to remove things that are considered to be offensive, immoral, harmful to society, etc.
checkpoint – n. a place where people, cars, etc., are searched by someone (such as a police officer) before being allowed to continue
circulate – v. to go or spread from one person or place to another
custody – n. the state of being kept in a prison or jail — used after in or into
fake – adj. not true or real
profile – n. a brief written description that provides information about someone or something
surveillance – n. the act of carefully watching someone or something especially in order to prevent or detect a crime
underscore – v. to emphasize (something) or show the importance of (something)