The Vietnamese Government is taking further steps to control internet activity in the country.
On the horizon and scheduled to come into effect on 14 January is “Decree 174”.
According to the translations circulating online, the new Decree will have two key areas of focus: social media and online gaming.
The aspect making most of the headlines is that users of social media who post comments that criticise the Government will be subject to fines (reportedly in the region of US$5,000). Other posts that would be subject to fines are those that undermine national unity, that distort historical facts or that “hurt the nation” of Vietnam. Many of these restrictions appear to be very broadly drafted.
The other activity that the new law is interested in is gaming. Reportedly, there will be fines for teenagers who play games “after curfew”. Other fines (ranging from around US$2,500 to US$5,000) will apply to the use of “too much” virtual currency, setting up unlicensed gaming centres or providing or advertising games without having a licence in place. There are also restrictions relating to the content of the games themselves.
All of these fines are surprisingly specific – for example, one wonders why playing games beyond curfew is subject to a fine of US$2,500 to US$5,000 whereas publishing games with certain restricted content (e.g. that promote drinking or smoking) is in the US$1,000 to US$1,500 bracket. It suggests that perhaps the Government is looking to bring enforcement of web violations more in line with something like parking violations. The challenge, of course, will be in the enforcement.
Nonetheless, the threat of fines may, in many cases, be enough to disincentivise (or at least make people think twice) about engaging in some of these activities. And this will certainly not help Vietnam’s reputation as an “enemy of the internet” – it currently ranks 172nd out of 179 countries on the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Rankings.