An innocuous video from Huy Dao, a Ho Chi Minh City entrepreneur, criticizing “unhelpful” college degrees like business administration stoked the ongoing discord between TikTok and the Vietnamese government.
Dao’s video, initially posted last year, saw a resurgence this March during the college application season and spurred a trend of videos criticizing certain degree choices.
Vietnamese state media, however, loudly rebuked the trend. Le Quang Tu Do, head of state broadcasting, publicly denounced the trend as “proffering absurd advice.”
Dao’s video and the subsequent trend were seen as undermining the value of state-run universities’ degrees, prompting officials’ concerns that young people might be dissuaded from pursuing higher education.
This contentious incident has been unfolding against the backdrop of changing governmental attitudes toward TikTok.
Since February, state-controlled media has blamed TikTok for hosting content considered anti-government, offensive, and unsuitable for children.
On May 22, the Vietnamese Ministry of Information and Communications initiated a wide-ranging investigation into TikTok.
The probe, spanning eight government departments, will examine issues like censorship processes, user authentication, content distribution via the app’s algorithm, and the behavior of popular influencers.
The Vietnamese government has urged TikTok to impose stricter content controls and remove any content that doesn’t comply with state standards.
In addition, the threat of an outright ban has been suggested, mirroring measures taken in the U.S.
There are also hints that TikTok could be cut off from local advertisers, banks, and e-commerce revenue streams.
Nguyen Khac Giang, an expert on Vietnamese politics, shared with Rest of World outlet that TikTok was previously largely non-political. Still, a rise in political content has created discomfort among the state censors.
Globally, TikTok has come under criticism for issues related to data access, censorship, and Chinese political influence.
The app is facing a unique challenge in Vietnam, where it is caught in a dispute over online freedom of speech.
TikTok’s user base in Vietnam more than doubled to 50 million between 2021 and 2022, leading to an increase in content that violated both the platform’s community guidelines and Vietnamese laws.
TikTok’s transparency report shows it proactively removed 5 million videos created by Vietnamese users during the first half of 2022 for content containing nudity, bullying, and harassment.
In addition to enforcing its own guidelines, TikTok also complies with requests from the Vietnamese government to remove specific videos.
The rate at which TikTok complies with such requests is relatively high compared to international standards.
The Vietnamese government’s proprietary monitoring software has reportedly struggled to manage content on short-video platforms like TikTok.
The government’s approach to controlling content has been top-down, and Viet Tho Le, vice dean of communications at Van Lang University, suggests the government should instead focus on educating the platform’s young user base.
TikTok, which maintains an office in Vietnam, revised its global community guidelines in April, introducing new “community principles.”
Despite the Vietnamese government’s threats, TikTok may yet avoid a ban as digital media experts suggest that regulating the platform would make more sense in the long run.
Despite the controversy, Huy Dao remains committed to expressing his personal opinions online, though he’s considering refraining from using strong language like “useless” in the future.
TikTok, TikTok Vietnam, tiktok censorship, tiktok content moderation,