As China’s Communist Party censorship went from a storm in a teacup to a wider protest movement over the altering of Southern Weekly’s New Year editorial, Vietnam has admitted that it hires its own sock puppets to influence public opinion online.
According to Hanoi’s head of propaganda, Ho Quang Loi, the Vietnamese government has hundreds of the bloggers on its pay roll, with at least 400 accounts spanning 20 different social media networks.
The BBC says there is a noticeable number of bloggers on social media networks popular in the country, who mostly post positive comments and articles about Vietnam’s communist party. It’s claimed they enthusiastically take part in discussions online, and attack those who are critical of the regime.
While the existence of government sponsored sock puppets has long been debated in tinfoil hat circles, generally people spend their time arguing online all day in the West for free. Regardless, the technique is not unique to Vietnam or China. In 2011, it emerged that the United States had been developing software to game popular social networks with fake profiles to influence conversations and spread propaganda, the Guardian reported at the time.
The BBC quotes two posts on its own Vietnam page, which has nearly 50,000 likes, one of which said countries like the United States should look to their own human rights abuses before criticising other nations.
Loi maintained, according to the BBC, that party bloggers had been useful in shutting down dissent and blocking calls for mass gatherings in Hanoi.