For most of us, Orwell’s “1984” is a work of fiction, but for other people it resembles the reality they have to live in every day. Vietnam, for instance, has unveiled a new military cyber warfare unit of some 10,000 people to counter any “wrong” views expressed on the Internet.
What is “wrong” in the view of the one-party state? Well, pretty much anything that criticizes the country’s rulers. Named Force 47, Reuters reports, quoting a local newspaper, the unit is already operational in several sectors. Lieutenant General Nguyen Trong Nghia, who is the deputy head of the military’s political department, is quoted as saying that they must be prepared to fight against the wrong views at any every second.
China has a somewhat similar attitude against government critics, but the situation there is more contained due to the fact that the country only allows local internet companies which operate under strict rules. Western sites like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube are banned in China, replaced by local tools that can be tracked and monitored.
The censorship doesn’t just revolve around the likes of social media sites, but also goes beyond to news sites, and blogs. In recent months there have been numerous efforts to silence critics, including a prison sentence for a blogger who the courts found to be “conducting propaganda against the state.” Bloggers who have been found in violation of these rules are to spend seven or ten years in jail – simply for having an opinion.
Besides playing Big Brother, Vietnam is also apparently building up a cyber espionage team. As many other nations in the region, apparently, Vietnam has developed quite an offensive force, which may have implications for the world’s governments, journalists, and multinational companies alike.
Censorship in Vietnam
This level of censorship coming from the Vietnamese government shows there’s a rather worrying situation building up, where people can’t speak their minds and where no one can have any secrets, cyber or not. Everyone has secrets, and it’s important for people to feel like they are safe in doing so. The situation in Vietnam, much like in China and other similar states, shows that this is not the case in any way for the people living here. Having the “wrong” kind of thoughts can get you in trouble, even if we’re talking about Internet searches or Facebook posts – the state is always watching. In Vietnam, every critical thought you have against the state may very well turn into a black secret – one that can get you in deep trouble with the authorities, including jail time.
The notion of the Internet has long been associated with freedom of expression, and yet, in Vietnam, the situation couldn’t be further from the truth. China, at the very least, has a closed Internet, and there’s a split between what locals know of the Internet and what the rest of the world does – people don’t expect privacy and they know the government is watching. In Vietnam, as people have free access to what the rest of the world does, and they’d expect the same freedom of thought and expression that comes with it. The reality, however, is far different.
On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for governments to want to be able to control everything. Depending on the political regime of a country, the exerted control is at a different level: in some places, there’s a deeper sense of freedom, in others, it’s quite the opposite. Another thing we need to consider here is the fact that each country has its culture, and that influences how citizens see this governmental control. Therefore, while the people of the western world may be outraged of this type of control, the people living under these regimes may very well be acceptant of them. There’s also nothing to say, especially given revelations of the past few years, that western governments aren’t just as controlling and manipulative, and seeking mass surveillance; they’re just a lot more subtle about it.
The fact that “rumor” has it that the Vietnamese cyber force has 10,000 people in it may also be, more or less, a PR move. Therefore, that number may or may not be accurate, as it’s not uncommon for governments to try to intimidate one another by boasting larger numbers of cyber soldiers. If in the past they’d do this with soldiers, they’ve now moved on to the techy-type of soldiers that spend their days behind computer screens.