Vietnam has accused Facebook of failing to take down “slanderous content” and said it was considering withholding money for some advertising paid to the social media giant, in the first significant sign of a crackdown on a foreign technology group under a new cyber security law.

At a briefing in Hanoi on Tuesday, the communist-ruled country’s Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information accused the company of violating Vietnamese law in its management of online content, advertising and tax liabilities. 

According to reports in state-controlled media published on Wednesday, the body said that the Ministry of Information and Communications was considering preventing cash from flowing into “hatred advertising” on the social media site, and was withholding taxes to deal with what it said were violations of Vietnamese law. 

It said Facebook allowed Vietnamese users to post “slanderous content, anti-government sentiment and libel and defamation of individuals, organisations and state agencies” in violation of the cyber security law, which took effect on January 1, as well as other legislation. 

The ABEI said the social media site had delayed removing content that Facebook said did not violate the site’s community standards, and refused to provide information on “fraudulent accounts” to state security authorities. 

Facebook said in response that it was diligent about removing content in compliance with local law. 

“We have a clear process for governments to report illegal content to us, and we review all these requests against our terms of service and local law,” the company said. “We are transparent about the content restrictions we make pursuant with local law in our transparency report.” 

According to that report, in the first half of 2018, Facebook restricted access to posts on issues including the illegal sale of regulated products, trade in wildlife and cases of illegal impersonation of an individual. The company said it also acted on posts in response to complaints of alleged defamation related to products made by Heineken and Nestlé, which were processed by the ABEI. 

Facebook did not comment on the watchdog body’s allegations that it had violated Vietnamese law on advertising or tax liabilities. 

In Vietnam, one of Asia’s fast-growing economies, Facebook is the second most-used site after Google, and serves as a conduit for open political discussion, including criticism of the ruling Communist Party.

Vietnam wants to rein in the power of the company and other foreign tech groups through the new law, which requires overseas businesses with an online presence to store data locally and open an office in the country.

Internet companies have warned the law will stifle investment, hinder the growth of Vietnam’s digital economy and hurt foreign and local companies. They say the requirement that they store data in the county is impractical in an age when cloud-based technology allows data to move freely across borders, and are privately worried about being seen as handmaidens to censorship in a one-party state. 

Twitter: @JohnReedwrites

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