Vietnam has a authoritarian government that focuses on internet censorship, banning things like:
- Political opposition content
- Independent media
- Religious groups
- Proxy sites
They manage to influence internet traffic with the help of state-owned ISPs, vague regulation, content manipulation, and attacks on journalists. The best way to overcome these problems, and enjoy the internet freely, is with the help of a VPN.
The Vietnamese government has been censoring the internet since 2013. Back then it introduced a law that banned the public from discussing politics or current affairs online, and restricted blogs to personal content.
Since early 2017, the Communist party, and President Tran Dai Quang, have instituted a national crackdown on internet freedoms, targeting anti-government bloggers and news sites, censoring content, and restricting freedom of expression on social media.
Under the guise of reducing “fake news,” the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam has repeatedly urged Facebook and Google to block “toxic” information that was critical of them or their actions.
Free Speech Crackdown
In a move that mirrors more restrictive countries, like China or Iran, the Vietnamese government has put in place plans to deploy nationalized social media and internet platforms it can more easily control. In 2017, the government also revealed that they had created a new 10,000-strong military unit designed to combat “wrong” views online and remove “bad and dangerous content.”
As the Vietnamese government’s crackdown on internet freedoms changes the digital landscape in Vietnam, this article will look at why the Communist party is censoring the internet, what content is being targeted, how it is being censored, and what censorship circumvention tools are available.
Why Does the Communist Party of Vietnam Censor the Internet?
In a 2017 interview, President Tran Dai Quang said that forces hostile to Vietnam were using the internet to organize political campaigns that “undermined the prestige of the leaders of the party and the state, with a negative impact on cadres, party members and people.”
Quang suggested that the Vietnamese government was developing an effective solution “to prevent news sites and blogs with bad and dangerous content.”
Despite the emphasis on controlling malicious content and “fake news,” censorship in Vietnam mainly targets the political opponents of the ruling Communist party, civil and human rights organizations, and religious groups, such as Buddhists and Roman Catholics.
On the whole, internet censorship in Vietnam is a tool deployed by the Communist party to stifle political discourse, target potential opponents, and remove news coverage of situations that may present them in a less than positive manner.
What Content is Censored by the Communist Party of Vietnam?
Compared to other countries that censor the internet, like Iran, Russia, or Pakistan, Vietnam isn’t focused on sheltering religious organizations. Quite the contrary, Vietnam’s internet censorship blocks content that promotes religious organizations.
Besides that, they also focus on silencing political opposition or human rights organizations.
Political opposition and independent media
The vast majority of content censored by the Communist Party of Vietnam consists of ideas that are considered threatening to Communist party rule. This can be information about the wrongs of the ruling party or even information on other forms of government, such as democracy.
News media that is considered critical of the Communist party is also censored. Recent examples of this include the blacklisting of websites criticizing the government’s reaction to border and sea disputes with China, or any coverage of the Formosa Steel Factory ecological disaster.
Human rights organizations
Access to the international websites of human rights and freedom of speech organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, Freedom the Red Cross, Amnesty International and, since 2016, Greenpeace, has been blocked to users inside Vietnam.
In line with the social values of the Communist Party of Vietnam, any content that promotes organized religion such as the Cao Dai group, Buddhism and the Roman Catholic Church is blocked to a significant degree. The Vietnamese government considers organized religious groups to be a threat to the state and censors them as potential political opponents.
Proxies and circumvention tools
Research by the OpenNet Initiative has found that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Vietnam have taken steps to block access to website proxies and tools that can circumvent government censorship. Some people in Vietnam still report being able to access such tools, so it’s a matter of which ISP and subscription you choose.
How Does the Communist Party of Vietnam Censor the Internet?
The Communist Party of Vietnam has plenty of tools to censor the internet. These include:
- State-owned ISPs and other telecommunications agencies
- Throttling connections
- Content manipulation
- Technical attacks
- Fines and other forms of punishment
State-owned telecommunications infrastructure
The Communist Party of Vietnam maintains strict control over the state’s telecommunications infrastructure.
Currently, the state-owned Viet Nam Post and Telecommunications Corporation (VNPT) and Viettel, which is owned by the Vietnamese military, dominate Vietnam’s telecommunications sector. Three out of four providers that allocate bandwidth to the country’s ISPs are owned by the state or the military.
Blocking and throttling
The Vietnamese government regularly employs bandwidth throttling and restricted access to the internet for political reasoning. Moreover, they frequently block access to social media and communications apps, including Facebook and Instagram.
Besides blocking access to the internet, the government also uses its control over the telecommunications infrastructure to block GSM signal to mobile phones during periods of political unrest in order to stifle communication among protesting groups and prevent the spread of news.
Censorship of the internet is the responsibility of The Vietnam Internet Network Information Center (VNNIC). A subsection of the Vietnamese Ministry of Information and Communications, the VNNIC allocates and supervises the use of internet domain names, IP addresses, and autonomous system numbers.
The Ministry for Public Security (MPS), an affiliate of the VNNIC, oversees political censorship. Theoretically, the decisions made by the MPS should be transparent and in line with public policy. However, website blacklisting and content takedowns are issued in a non-transparent manner.
Content takedowns and stored data
Since 2017, the Vietnamese government has placed increased pressure on international content and social media platforms to remove material the Communist party regards as “toxic.”
Under new legislation passed in 2017, social media companies like Facebook will have to remove “offensive” content from their platforms within one day of receiving a request from the VNNIC.
When Facebook refused to comply with these regulations, the Vietnam-based operations of several multinational companies withdrew advertising from Facebook and YouTube at the request of the government. Since 2017, there has been a back-and-forth between Facebook and the Vietnam government. Sometimes, Facebook complies with its request, other times it takes the loss of revenue.
State legislators recently approved a law requiring all global technology firms, with operations in Vietnam, to store user data. The Law on Information Security allows the sharing of users’ personal information among government agencies without consent and mandates that authorities be given data decryption keys on request.
The Vietnamese government takes direct action to manipulate public opinion online. Hanoi has a large team of “internet polemicists and public opinion shapers” that report to the city’s head of propaganda, Ho Quang Lo.
These pro-government content manipulators operate around 18 websites and 400 online accounts that monitor social media content, collect information on users, and direct online discussions so that they conform to views and opinions of the Communist Party of Vietnam.
Since 2009, these have been several instances where attackers have used Vietnamese-language programs to infect the computers of human rights organizations with botnet software designed to assist in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on news websites and blogs that were perceived to be critical of the government.
Documents leaked and then published in 2017 revealed that government-sponsored hackers had conducted a large-scale cyber-espionage campaign that targeted Vietnamese media organizations, the Vietnamese diaspora in Australia, and corporations with interests in Vietnam.
Fines and job losses
Journalists who write articles that are critical of the Communist government can face punishments such as fines, disciplinary warnings, job loss, and even imprisonment.
For example, the MPS revoked the press credentials for Mai Phan Loi, head of the Hanoi bureau of the HCMC Law Newspaper, for an online publication that discussed the crash of a Vietnamese maritime patrol aircraft. In the post, Loi questioned why the plane had “exploded into pieces,” which the MIC deemed to “not respectful to the military.”
When journalists protested the stripping of Loi’s press credentials, the Minister of Information and Communications, Truong Minh Tuan, issued a statement telling journalists that they should be considerate when using social networks, or face the consequences.
Under Decree 174, the government can impose fines of up to VND 100 million (US$4,700) on any individual who “criticizes the government, the Party or national heroes and spreads propaganda and reactionary ideology against the state” through social media.
Articles 79, 88, and 258 of the Vietnamese penal code allow for the prosecuting and detention of bloggers and online activists for crimes such as subversion, anti-state propaganda, and, ironically, abusing democratic freedoms.
Under Article 79, “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration,” and “making, storing, disseminating or propagandizing materials and products that aim to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” is punishable by one to five years in prison.
Attacks on online journalists
Besides facing the threat of censorship and imprisonment by the government, bloggers and online activists in Vietnam have been subjected to physical attacks. Human Rights Watch has reported that 36 such attacks happened between January 2015 and April 2017, with some occurring within full view of police stations or police officers who did not intervene. More recent data is scarce, but it’s likely that the attacks haven’t stopped.
Nguyen Trung Ton, a Protestant pastor and online activist, was attacked by a group of men carrying iron rods in February 2017, and, two months later, pro-democracy blogger To Oanh was run off the road by a pro-government attacker in a truck.
How To Access a Free Internet in Vietnam
Vietnam’s heavy internet restrictions make it difficult to say if any of the techniques below will work for you. You may be lucky enough to access a proxy site, and use it to browse the internet freely. On the other hand, you might be met with an error message whenever you try to access a VPN (Virtual Private Network) site.
Regardless, whether you plan to travel to Vietnam soon or are in the country already, here are some tips to help you get access to a free internet in Vietnam:
- Subscribe to a good VPN service (we list some below) or use Tor/a website proxy to mask your identity online.
- Browse the internet under a pseudonym.
- Sign up for a secure email service like ProtonMail.
Is the Use of a VPN Legal in Vietnam?
It isn’t explicitly illegal to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) in Vietnam. Although the government regularly blacklists censorship circumvention tools such as website proxies, VPNs seem to be largely off the hook.
What are the Best VPN Services to Use in Vietnam?
Before we get into our list, we want to mention that free VPNs can be a viable option sometimes, but using them can be risky. Some of them log your activity, leaving you vulnerable to government crackdowns. Moreover, free VPNs can limit your internet connection speed.
If one of the sites of the premium VPNs mentioned below isn’t accessible, however, a free VPN could help you access it anyway. This way, you can use the risky, free VPN to get a more reliable provider.
ExpressVPN offers excellent speeds and stable connections. With thousands of servers in 94 different countries, you can always find the right server. Whether you are merely browsing the web or gaming intensely, ExpressVPN is there to ensure your privacy without you having any problems with lag or loading.
Their software makes use of the highest international standards of encryption and ExpressVPN’s privacy and logging policies mean you won’t have to worry about your anonymity, regardless of what country you are connecting from. With their system’s kill switch enabled, you won’t have to worry about data leaks either.
So, whether you are a tech-savvy gamer or a casual browser, ExpressVPN’s emphasis on tight security and user-friendliness makes them the ideal VPN provider.
- Very easy to use VPN
- Perfect for anonymous browsing, downloading, and streaming (i.e. Netflix)
- 3000+ servers in 94 countries
If you are looking for a user-friendly VPN provider, then CyberGhost is an excellent choice for the average user. The CyberGhost team pride themselves on their simple and easy to use software. Their user interface is clear and shows all the information that you might need.
CyberGhost has an excellent network with thousands of servers in more than 60 countries. It even offers several dedicated servers especially for streaming, with access to your favorite streaming services. Signing up to CyberGhost provides you a lot of features for a reasonable price, and if you’re not impressed, they have a 45-day money-back guarantee.
- Very user-friendly
- High quality for a low price
- Torrents and Netflix possible
Subscribing to NordVPN gives you access to well over 5500 servers worldwide, so you won’t have trouble finding the server you need. Because they are based in Panama, NordVPN isn’t obliged to keep any records of your user data and are ideal if you’re serious about your privacy.
You can install and use NordVPN’s software on up to six devices at once. Moreover, they offer fast servers for video streaming.
- Excellent protection and a large network of servers
- Nice and pleasing application
- No logs
The Communist Party of Vietnam has a history of censoring the internet. Most of the censorship is meant to stifle political opposition and human rights organizations. Since 2017, however, new laws and a new emphasis from the government has seen them transition into a state similar to China. Vietnam saw a wide range of crackdowns on online freedoms and a corresponding rise in attacks on journalists and social media users that are in any way critical on the government.
Click on any of these frequently asked questions about Vietnam’s censorship to see our answers.
Vietnam has an authoritarian government, so they focus on internet censorship to keep political opposition in check. It’s a common practice in totalitarian countries. You can find out more by reading our article on censorship in Vietnam.
Vietnam employs a lot of the classic internet censorship tricks, like throttling connections and collaborating with ISPs to block access to specific websites. On top of that, DDoS attacks and content manipulation are common in Vietnam, making it one of the most advanced countries when it comes to internet censorship.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) will route your traffic through servers all across the globe. This way, your IP remains anonymous when browsing the web. On top of that, a VPN can also makes it seem as if you’re browsing from a different country. That’s how you can get around internet censorship in Vietnam. For tips on which VPNs work in Vietnam, you can read our full article here.