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The Vietnamese government is fighting political disapproval online with social media “influencers” who are usually soldiers.
Force 47 is Vietnam’s online information warfare unit. It has thousands of soldiers who perform normal duties in addition to their online work. They create and moderate online material to correct “wrong views” on pro-state Facebook groups.
Reuters studied state media reports and superslot broadcasts. It found that, since Force 47 was created in 2016, it has set up hundreds of Facebook groups and pages. It also published thousands of pro-government stories and posts.
Social media researchers say the group may be the largest and most complex influence network in Southeast Asia. It is playing an important role in the country’s intensifying dispute with Facebook.
A Facebook source told Reuters last week that the company had removed a group called “E47.” The group used military and civilian members to report posts to have them taken down. The person said the group was connected to a list of Force 47 groups identified by Reuters.
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed that some groups and accounts were taken down last Thursday for organizing attempts to report a lot of posts. A person with the company said the action was one of Facebook’s largest takedowns started under its mass reporting policy.
But many of the Force 47 accounts and groups identified by Reuters remain active. The company source said they do not violate Facebook policies because they are operated by users under their real names.
Facebook has become an important tool for political speech in Vietnam. This has created a dispute between Facebook and the country over the removal of material said to be “anti-state.”
The ruling Communist Party in Vietnam controls the media and accepts little criticism.
Last year, Vietnam slowed down Facebook traffic until the company agreed to increase the censorship of political material on its service in Vietnam. Months later, officials threatened to close Facebook in Vietnam if the company did not restrict additional material in the country.
A Facebook spokesperson told Reuters that the company’s goal was to keep its services online “for as many people as possible to express themselves, connect with friends and run their business.”
The spokesperson said Facebook has been honest about its efforts to continue operating in Vietnam.