SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A California lawmaker sent a letter Tuesday to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, claiming the Vietnamese government is using a covert group called Force 47 to silence dissenting voices on the popular social media platform.
The government of Vietnam has said the purpose of Force 47 is to prevent potential cyberattacks from China. Vietnamese-Americans, however, say the organization silences the opinions of people who hold the “wrong views.” Force 47 employs 10,000 Vietnamese citizens who monitor online activity and request certain content be taken down.
In his letter to Zuckerberg, California Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, accused the social media giant of complying with Force 47’s requests. According to Human Rights Watch, Facebook removed at least 159 Vietnamese accounts in 2017.
Vietnam is the seventh largest global user of Facebook, and more than 64 million of its 94 million citizens have accounts.
Kalra cites the case of 38-year old Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, who goes by the pseudoym Mẹ Nấm, or “Mother Mushroom,” who in 2017 was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for publishing her views against the government’s policies on the environment, freedom of speech and police brutality. She was convicted of “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
“Hers is not an isolated case,” Kalra says in the letter, “but one of many cases getting international attention.”
Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said the Vietnamese government policy to restrict bloggers and online journalists is based on “vague national security laws to silence activists and throttle free speech.”
Early in the spread of Facebook in Vietnam, the government tried to control the platform in a similar manner as the Chinese government had, through the creation of a dedicated, state-run platform. Activists say the government acted too late, and now has no choice but to accept the reality of an outlet for dissenting voices.
Kalra told Zuckerberg that local community members believe Facebook is aware of Force 47 and is either complicit in its actions or is actively assisting the purging of online content unfavorable to the government.
Kalra urges Facebook to listen to online activists and ensure views unpopular with foreign governments are not squashed.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment by press time.