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Vietnam blocked access to Facebook during Obama visit

TechCrunch TechCrunch 27/05/2016 Jon Russell

This much-talked about Instagram photo wasn’t the only product of President Obama’s recent visit to Vietnam. The Southeast Asian country also cut access to Facebook while the head of the U.S. was on its soil.

That’s according to free speech advocates at Access Now, who pulled together evidence that the social network was shuttered in its entirety over the weekend. That’s opposed to a partial block, which authorities have favored lately. Vietnam, you may recall, blocked Facebook earlier this month on account of coverage of citizen protests which spread across the social network, which counts more than 30 million members in Vietnam.

Facebook did not immediate respond to our request for comment.

The reason for the shutoff appears to be national elections, with activists telling Reuters that the social network was muted to prevent pro-democracy activists calling for a boycott.

“Internet shutdowns must never be allowed to become the new normal,” Access Now wrote on its website. “Often justified in the name of public safety, shutdowns instead cut off access to vital information, e-financing, and emergency services, plunging whole societies into fear and destabilizing the internet’s power to support small business livelihoods and drive economic development.”

The group also argued that censorship impacts trade and business, which was one of the mission statements behind Obama’s trip.

Facebook was initially blocked in Vietnam when the social network became popular in Southeast Asia five or so years ago. That initially led to a glut of localized services rising to take its place, however Facebook has become a mainstream service among Vietnam’s 90 million population in recent years.

Vietnam is far from the only country to flex its muscles to suppress social network, there are plenty of examples aside from the obvious regime of China. Vietnam’s neighbor Thailand briefly blocked Facebook less than a week after a military coup in May 2014, while Turkey’s government has restricted access to Twitter and Facebook multiple times, and Pakistan only lifted a three-year ban on YouTube this year. Elsewhere, Malaysia continues to block Medium following investigative reporting on corruption claims related to its Prime Minister.

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