Vietnam urges ad boycott of YouTube and Facebook over anti-govt posts

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam on Thursday called on all companies doing business there to stop advertising on YouTube, Facebook and other social media until they find a way to halt the publication of “toxic” anti-government information.

At a meeting with the information and communication minister, companies including the local operations of Unilever, Ford and Yamaha Motor all committed to obey the call to suspend YouTube advertising.

Last month, the communist country began putting pressure on advertisers to try to get YouTube owner Google and other companies to remove content from foreign-based dissidents.

But Information and Communication Minister Truong Minh Tuan said the response had not yet been good enough. Although there were 8,000 anti-government videos on YouTube, Google had only blocked 42 and hadn’t removed them completely, the ministry said.

“Today we call on all Vietnamese firms that are advertising not to abet them to take advertising money from firms to use against the Vietnamese government,” Tuan told companies at a meeting in Hanoi.

“We also call on all internet users to raise their voice to Google and Facebook to prevent toxic, fake content violating Vietnamese law in the online environment.”

YouTube reiterated its global policy of thoroughly reviewing government requests to block content they believe is illegal and restricting it where appropriate. Facebook gave no immediate response.

The Asia Internet Coalition, an industry association which includes both companies, said Vietnam and its businesses benefited greatly from the internet.

“It is critical for the Vietnamese government to protect the open nature of the internet, and put in place the right conditions that incentivize investment and nurture innovation,” said Jeff Paine, the group’s managing director.

For governments to complain to Google and Facebook about content published online is not new, but industry officials said there was less precedent for a state to try to put pressure on them through their advertisers.

Vietnam’s state-owned Vinamilk, and flag carrier Vietnam Airlines suspended YouTube ads last month after the government told them their ads had appeared alongside inappropriate content.

Because of the computer-directed processes that pair adverts with their targeted audiences on social media, companies are not always aware of or have direct control over which specific videos an advert has been placed alongside.

Vietnam has come under fire from Western countries and human rights groups for its Decree 72 on social media – which bans information that it deems anti-government, damaging to national security or destroying national unity.

Despite the restrictions, content that ostensibly breaches the code’s standards is still prolific.

While Vietnam makes up a very small part of the business operations of companies like Google and Facebook, it is one of Asia’s fastest growing economies and a hot investment target for global consumer brands.

Within Vietnam itself, YouTube and Facebook account for two-thirds of digital media market share in Vietnam, according to Nguyen Khoa Hong Thanh, Operations Director at digital marketing agency Isobar Vietnam.

(By My Pham; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Nick Macfie)

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