The state needs to resolve disputes about social networks by law. This is the solution of a modern society that respects a rule-of-law culture.
A "war" has broken out on social networks between journalists and supporters of Mrs. Phuong Hang, the CEO and Vice Chair of Binh Duong province-based Dai Nam JSC and the wife of Mr. Huynh Uy Dung, a famous wealthy businessman in Vietnam, who blamed many Vietnamese celebrities for doing charity in the wrong way, advertising products with false information, and revealing personal information of famous people during her livestreams on Facebook and YouTube. Journalists, however, want to prevent the abuse of freedom of expression and infringement on privacy and interests of others.
This article does not attempt to analyze who is right and who is wrong in that “war”, but outlines the legal framework as well as ethical practices to deal with similar cases that are expected to occur in the future, along with the development of social networks.
However, this phenomenon should be put in the context that similar acts have happened many times and many people have taken advantage of the media and social networks to smear, attack, and insult others but have not been punished; many celebrities took advantage of social networks to spread false information or entice their fans to buy poor quality medicines, and after offering apology, they were forgiven by the public.
This leads many people to mistakenly believe that it is okay as such acts are a rampant social phenomenon.
In principle, those who commit acts of assault on others must be severely punished under the law, and cannot be excused for any reason.
The behavior of many people who hacked into the Voice of Vietnam (VOV)'s network after VOV posted articles on Phuong Hang on June 12-13 was very serious, possibly committing the crime of obstructing or disrupting the operation of the computer networks, telecommunications networks and electronic means according to Point c, Clause 1, Article 287 of the Penal Code 2015. Those who masterminded, incited, and assisted the perpetrators of the attack will also be handled as an accomplice.
These violations are similar in nature as they all used the same tool - social networks to attack others, but the case of Phuong Hang is widely known.
The state needs to direct disputes on social networks to be resolved by law. This is the solution of a modern society that respects the rule of law culture.
Laws in some countries
Many countries are considering handling technology companies such as Facebook, YouTube and Google because of the nature of preventing consequences that are faster than a legal process - because it often takes a long time for the victims to sue the violators and to win the case and when they win the case, they have already suffered from the violation. Forcing technology companies to set up technical barriers to handle the consequences before the proceedings are carried out is necessary.
In Germany, the Network Enforcement Act (Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz, NetzDG; German: Gesetz zur Verbesserung der Rechtsdurchsetzung in sozialen Netzwerken), also known as the Facebook Act (Facebook-Gesetz) was enacted in 2017. The law aimed at combating “hate speech, defamation, malicious gossip, fake news", to force international social media technology companies to censor the content posted on their sites.
Social networks must remove "unlawful content". NetzDG added new requirements to handle information on social networks where the impact of the violation is very damaging and very fast, thanks to the speed of information sharing.
NetzGD requires that social networking service providers with infringing content (pornography, violence, hate speech, misinformation, fake news), upon receipt of a request, remove the infringing content within 24 hours. It may extend processing time to seven days.
These companies are required to assign specialized personnel to work with the German government on supervision and handling such cases. At the same time, every six months they must publish reports on the number of cases that are handled.
If these requirements are not complied with, the sanctions are very strict, with fines of up to 50 million Euro. The law does not force deletion of any copies of the infringing information. The victims can take the author directly to court, and the judge has the right to order the disclosure of the infringer's identity.
This is also consistent with the trend that technology companies are taking to protect users, especially to solve two problems: (1) user privacy, and (2) anti-fake news, disinformation and hateful and divisive statements.
Singapore’s Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) was passed by Parliament in May 2019 with the aim to address concerns about the consequences of fake news, and misinformation on social networks, including intermediaries using accounts originating outside of Singapore but information being circulated in Singapore.
When websites and social networks spread false or untrue information (including fabrications), the Minister issues an Access Block Order, and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) may request internet service providers to disable access to an online site claimed in Singapore where false information spreads.
Failure to comply with the Access Block Order will result in the internet service provider (or internet intermediary) being fined up to 20,000 SGD/day (totaling SGD 500,000). For individuals, the fine is up to 50,000 SGD, or imprisonment for up to 5 years. The penalty is two times higher if posting fake news with an unofficial online account; and fake news publishing company will be fined up to 1 million SGD. It is up to the government to determine which news is fake or inaccurate.
Egypt passed the 2018 Law on the Organisation of Press, Media and the Supreme Council of Media and set up an agency to manage social media accounts or websites with more than 5,000 followers. These accounts and websites are considered a form of media, which are placed under the supervision of the Supreme Council of Media.
That agency has the right to block websites and file a complaint to the competent authority against platforms and users whose offenses threaten national security, disrupt public order, and are discriminatory, violent, racist, hateful or intolerant.
What can Vietnam learn from these countries?
Preventing and dealing with false information is one of the goals of the Law on Cybersecurity, which took effect on January 1, 2019.
With an open economy, it is necessary to ensure the freedom of information and data flow. However, to reduce public resources needed to follow complicated problems arising from social networks, it is time for the Vietnamese government to issue a document transferring the responsibility of initial handling to technology companies, in order to reduce consequences arising from acts of offending the reputation and honor of individuals and organizations.
The State’s role in social networks
It is unfair to say that the state does not handle disorder on social networks, but the handling is not thorough. Particularly, many artists have committed violations but few of them have been fined.
This leads to the arrogance of some artists, who always think of themselves as having the power to dominate society. Thus, many people think that if famous artists are not punished, then it will be fine for ordinary people to commit similar violations.
There is no shortage of legal framework to handle acts of insulting reputation of others, but to enforce these regulations, there are many technical problems, because in many cases when the violators are punished, the consequences are too serious.
It is not easy to handle violations on social networks committed by anonymous accounts or those registered in foreign countries. This is a challenge that the State must solve. The building of a legal framework to promptly deal with this situation is still a big challenge for countries and policy makers.
In many cases, technology has evolved far beyond the law. For content management on the internet, which is considered the most difficult of the three main issues of cybersecurity (cyberattacks; protection of user data; and content), plus the borderless nature of information technology, has made it increasingly difficult to handle acts of offending reputation and posting false news.
If the accounts committing violations are registered in Vietnam, the authorities should punish them drastically to give a warning to violators.
However, it is necessary to consider the relationship between the privacy of celebrities and freedom of speech and press freedom, and punish the violators that have accounts with a lot of followers first to prevent the spread of false and fake news in the community.
Celebrities' right to privacy, freedom of speech
The privacy of celebrities is being violated more than that of ordinary people. In many developed countries, the privacy of celebrities has been one of the most controversial legal topics.
Celebrities lure public attention. Sometimes, like it or not, celebrities are considered by society as a "model" of culture, intelligence, morality, and behavior. Many artists, singers, presenters or scientists become idols of many people.
Thanks to their popularity, they can earn a lot of money. But because of their popularity, celebrities either lose or have to accept the loss of privacy. With the same behavior, an ordinary person in society will be less "scrutinized" than a famous person.
As for celebrities, livestream is a new tool to help their voices and performances be broadcast live to the audience. It is not an illegal act because it's freedom of speech.
But this is a limited right. Speech that offends others is beyond the limits of the right. Freedom of speech does not protect against slander and malicious rumors.
Therefore, in my personal opinion, for the same violations - insulting the reputation, honor and dignity of others - famous people and those with a high number of followers must be punished more severely than ordinary people because they exert more influence. This differentiation takes into account the impact of information and the consequences of behavior.
Dr. Thai Thi Tuyet Dung
University of Economics and Law under the Vietnam National University – HCMC
Even shop owners, who sell goods to earn their living, have been found cursing at customers when livestreaming.
Many Internet users in Vietnam, especially young people, students and children are negatively affected by unhealthy information and images that are freely distributed in cyberspace.