Vietnam’s battle with YouTube over ‘toxic clips’

Authorities want the local tech community to help handle problematic videos on YouTube

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Vietnam’s battle with YouTube over ‘toxic clips’

Vietnam’s Minister of Information and Communications today appealed to the local tech community, inviting members to build tools or come up with other innovative solutions to help filter out clips on YouTube that violate Vietnamese law.

The Minister did not state precisely what type of technical solutions he was referring to, but the request follows the ministry’s ongoing effort to put pressure on YouTube, which it considers hosting too many “toxic” clips that include anti-government propaganda, fake news, videos inciting violence, and videos that otherwise undermine “national traditions and customs.”

In recent weeks, the government has requested local advertisers to stop running ads on problematic videos. Authorities said they have identified at least 100 brands whose ads were shown alongside law-violating clips to Vietnamese viewers, including ads from popular ride-hailing company Grab, e-commerce platform Shopee, and phone maker Huawei.

“We can’t just rely only on the willingness of Google to remove these clips,” Minister Nguyen Manh Hung said at an event held between authorities, advertisers and representatives from local tech companies today. “We want to stress that all foreign companies, including Google and YouTube, must comply with our laws while operating in Vietnam.”

His ministry claims that it has identified 55,000 clips containing content considered toxic. Google was able to remove 8,000 clips at the request of authorities during this past year.

The YouTube crackdown is part of the country’s broader efforts to regulate global tech companies to minimize tax losses in digital cross-border transactions and to ensure that content on global platforms such as Google and Facebook within the country and targeting Vietnamese users do not violate Vietnamese laws.

Thus, the government has also been ramping up its legal framework to put more stringent requirements on tech companies operating in the country.

A controversial cybersecurity law was passed in June 2018, subjecting global tech companies such as Google and Facebook to establish local offices and store data on domestic servers. Vietnam also amended its tax management law in mid-June this year, requiring commercial banks to withhold taxes of offshore entities in digital cross-border transactions.

Le Hong Minh, the founder and chairman of Vietnam’s only tech unicorn VNG, said during discussion at the event that local companies needed to have a level playing field to more fairly compete with global tech players in the Vietnamese market.

Google and Facebook currently claim about 70% of Vietnam’s digital advertising revenue, according to local media, citing statistics from Southeast Asian digital marketing agency ANTS while local tech companies only get a smaller share of the pie.

A group of leaders from domestic tech companies will be gathered by the Ministry of Information and Communications in the coming weeks, according to Minister Hung. The plan is to further discuss the development of “local digital platforms and solutions” to handle YouTube’s toxic content problem in Vietnam.