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Vietnam's Government-Hired Propaganda Bloggers

BY Julia Wetherell | Wednesday, January 16 2013

The Vietnamese government acknowledged last week that up to 1,000 bloggers and online tastemakers in the country are hired propaganda agents, enlisted to steer Internet discourse towards support of Communist policies. These mercenary netizens have been a vocal presence in the Vietnamese blogosphere and on social media over the past few years, espousing pro-governmental opinions and attacking dissidents.

Vietnam has maintained one of the worst records of freedom of expression in the Internet age, ranking only six places ahead of North Korea on the Press Freedom Index this past year. Late last month, the prominent pro-democracy blogger Le Quoc Quan was arrested for tax evasion, a charge frequently levied against outspoken dissidents to get them behind bars. Like many states attempting to keep control of political organization and dissidence online, the Vietnamese government has attempted to adopt legislation over the past year that would greatly expand state control over the Internet.

The propaganda bloggers have so far served as a kind of crowd-driven censorship army; while, as the BBC reported, there isn’t evidence that any of these people are on the official government payroll, the Hanoi propaganda minister praised the bloggers for their role in reducing the number of public protests in the city in between 2011 and 2012.

That Vietnamese authorities have taken to such measures might indicate that the government won’t be able to keep up with popular discourse for long. Internet use in Vietnam has exploded over the past decade, and citizens have taken to mobile and social media to share information that might otherwise be downplayed in state media on their own terms. For a tightly controlled one-party state like Vietnam, this could spell a shaky dance between state doctrine and a public that increasingly demands openness.

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