Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Hanoi — Vietnam has accused Facebook of violating a new cyber-security law by refusing to scrub anti-government content from its site, the first reprimand since the controversial bill came into effect days ago.

The law, which went live January 1 and has drawn criticism from the US, the EU and web freedom groups, requires internet companies to remove “toxic content” and hand over user data when requested by authorities.

It also stipulates that companies should host servers in the one-party state — including banks and e-commerce companies —  sparking fears of data and privacy breaches and cyber-security threats.

State broadcaster Vietnam Television reported on Wednesday that Facebook failed to take down pages allegedly calling for anti-government activities, citing requests from the country’s  ministry of information and communications. The ministry sent several letters and e-mails requesting the removals, according to the report.

However, Facebook “delayed and even failed to remove information, claiming the information did not violate community standards”, VTV reported.

Vietnam also accused the company of hosting advertisements for “illegal products” including counterfeit money, fake goods, weapons and firecrackers, the report added. The ministry could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The consequences for violating the law are expected to be laid out in a decree that has yet to be made public.

Vietnam has said the bill is designed to improve cyber-security in the country, but critics say the legislation — which mirrors China’s draconian internet rules — is aimed at silencing online dissent. In a statement to AFP on Wednesday, Facebook said it is “transparent about the content restrictions we make pursuant with local law in our transparency report”.

“We have a clear process for governments to report illegal content to us, and we review all these requests against our terms of service and local law,” a spokesperson told AFP.

Social media is a crucial platform for activists in communist Vietnam, where all independent press and public protests are banned. Facebook is by far the most popular tool for activists, though several have complained to AFP in recent months that posts have disappeared and accounts been blocked.

Unlike in China, social media and instant messaging services such as WhatsApp are not banned, and analysts say the cyber-security law is a means to control online expression without banning services — a move that would likely cause widespread outcry.

There are more than 53-million Facebook users in Vietnam, more than half the population, many of which use the site as a crucial platform for business and commerce.