Just when Vietnam’s government announced this week that the country now has 132 million mobile phone subscribers, the Wall Street Journal adds that sales of tablets also are booming — even as Vietnam cracks down on political dissent. The effort to control conversation is on a collision course with the Internet’s uncontrollable means to converse.
Sales of smart phones and tablets more than tripled in Vietnam last year, growing more than any other country in the world except Colombia. Subscriber numbers are so high they stretch the credibility of service providers: Vietnam is reported to have nearly 1.5 active phones per person.
Yet, the Journal reports, Vietnam is second only to China among the world’s most risky places to use the Internet — with about 35 bloggers currently spending time in prison for spreading antigovernment propaganda.
The government contends it strives to protect intellectual property and limit the spread of damaging content. The real problem, the Journal suggests, is that the country’s leaders strike out at the Web when they feel that their own status is threatened.
In other words, the explosion of telecommunication in Vietnam seems to be colliding with powerful homeostatic forces that protect the political status quo. And that means smart phone subscribers need to be careful what they express on their new devices. As recently as last week, a 65-year-old former soldier named Ngo Hao was sentenced to 15 years in prison for activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.