I first realized that I wanted to be a political science major when I wrote a paper on North Korea. And while I don’t recall the exact subtopic, I do remember reading quite a bit about how totalitarian governments function—how leaders establish legitimacy, maintain control over almost every detail of their people’s lives, and survive in a world order dominated by democratic states. I was also really interested in how such a government psychologically manipulates its people, convincing families to turn on neighbors and children to give testimony against their parents. Understanding that these types of societies are fragile, most totalitarian leaders do whatever it is in their power to prevent rebellions, and I was always fascinated by what means they took and how the people reacted.
Since I can’t travel to North Korea or Eritrea, countries like Vietnam are just about the closest thing to a totalitarian state that I can get to, and it is still a long way away from that. I know that Freedom House is not the be-all-end-all ranking system, but I like to use it. For 2011, it ranks Vietnam as “Not Free.” For those of you who don’t know, Freedom House does reports on just about every country in the world; it looks at political rights and civil liberties among other things to give each country a score, and then it ranks them as “Free,” “Partly Free,” or “Not Free.” Here is its most recent report on Vietnam from 2011: http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2011/vietnam
But basically, I started thinking about all of this when I realized that facebook is somewhat banned here. You can’t access it if you type in www.facebook.com but, if you google proxy facebook sites, there are TONS. So it’s not really that difficult to get on. So I started reading about internet censorship in Vietnam, and I found that the government refuses to acknowledge that it has blocked facebook and, therefore, the blocks are pretty weak. If the government really wanted to take a harder stance on preventing access to the site, it would have to take much stronger measures and admit that it is behind it all. That would be a very unpopular move amongst the Vietnamese youth. So instead, the government just limits access to the “common folk.” Here’s some more reading for those of you that are interested in this: http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2010/11/facebook_vietnam. Also, I think I read that the people are formally guaranteed a kind of free speech, but that protection is often contradicted by local laws or government actions.
I guess that a lot of governments like Vietnam worry not that people will say awful things about leaders on facebook, but that they will use the site as a way of uniting people against governments in power. This all happened before the Arab Spring Movements, and I won’t say that facebook was absolutely instrumental in the rebellions, but I do think it made them logistically easier. But I guess, my point is that made Vietnam feared that the site would be used in a similar way.
In other news, as I’m writing this, the theme song to Titanic is blasting. AHAHAHAHA! Preparation for the movie coming out in 3D, I guess.