Army joins battle for internet

The proliferation of internet use caught the Communist party off guard, undermining its monopoly on information. Photo courtesy VOV.

An announcement that the Vietnamese military is joining an offensive against the free use of social media marks a significant escalation in the Communist party’s drive to reassert control.

The army said it was deploying a 10,000 strong cyber warfare unit to combat “wrongful views” on the internet.

The move caps a year in which the government has stepped up repression of independent bloggers, sentencing prominent writers to lengthy prison terms.

The new brigade of cyber warriors will fight to regain control of the internet following the explosive growth of social media, which has undercut the government’s monopoly on information.

“I see other countries declaring that there is a real cyber war,” said Lieutenant-General Nguyen Trong Nghia, as he announced the existence of the new unit.

“Therefore in every hour, minute, and second we must be ready to fight proactively against the wrong views.”

The use of the military in such an overt manner shows the seriousness with which the Communist party is taking the growth of civil society organisations, which have been able to use the internet to get their message out.

“The enemy takes advantage of the internet to create chaos,” said Lt-Gen Nghia, reflecting the view of hardliners in the leadership that foreign governments and organisations are seeking to undermine the government’s legitimacy.

“Force 47”, as the military unit is being called, has been compared to China’s use of internet commentators to counter independent views and reinforce official positions.

The party leadership under the General-Secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, appears to have paid close attention to growing repression in China, which has enabled President Xi Jinping to consolidate power and shore up the ideology of the Communist party.

The Vietnamese government has recently stepped up pressure on foreign based platforms, including Facebook and YouTube, to remove material that it considers subversive.

Officials say they’re still working on the provision of domestic substitutes, although even conservatives in the leadership could baulk at the prospect of a China style ban on Facebook, given its popularity across all sections of Vietnamese society.