Vietnam was, until this past fall, like most other countries in the booming region: Its citizens were moving on to Facebook. Whether due to the games, photo sharing, status updates, privacy, or other features, the country’s Facebook user base had begun growing fast when the crowd-sourced Vietnamese translation of the service went live earlier last year.
But all that has changed in the last couple of months, and numerous reports suggest the country’s single-party psuedo-Communist government is the reason.
As of June of 2009, Vietnam had nearly 73,000 monthly active users, according to our Global Monitor report. As of early November, it had nearly 1.1 million, and it was beginning to match the Facebook growth rates of other Asian countries like Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwain, Singapore and Indonesia.
But starting in October, according to an Associated Press report, the site began having performance problems. Note: The AP article is no longer hosted on Google and Yahoo, for whatever reason, so we’re linking to one of the spam blogs that picked it up at the time.
It describes what sounds like purposeful censorship on the part of the government:
“[T]echnicians at two of Vietnam’s largest internet service providers said they had been swamped with calls from customers complaining they could not access Facebook during the last week. A technician at Vietnam Data Corp. said government officials had ordered his firm to block access to Facebook and that VDC instituted a block on the site on November 11. He declined to give his name because he was not authorised to speak to the media. However, Vu Hoang Lien, the firm’s top executive, said he was unaware of any such order.
Subsequent reports have indicated more of the same.
Traffic has meanwhile been falling fast. By early December, it had dropped to 1 million monthly active users, according to our report, which relies on data from Facebook’s advertising tool. As of January 1, the country was down to 810,000 monthly active users, according to the latest Global Monitor.
The government continues to deny that it is trying to block Facebook. Dang Anh Tuan, of Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications, told CNN a couple weeks ago that “we don’t have a policy to block Facebook.” However, the report says “he acknowledged that Facebook activities are a concern to the agency and that its use by Vietnam’s netizens were monitored.” Facebook itself told CNN that there are no Vietnam downtime issues on its end.
So the Vietnamese government is not yet being as obvious as its northern neighbor China, which completely blocks Facebook. But the traffic declines show that whatever is actually going on is getting similar results.[Map via the U.S. Department of State.]