Authoritarian regimes seem to have a love-hate relationship with the internet. Vietnam is leaning toward love. State-owned Vietnam Multimedia Report recently launched a trial version of go.vn, an answer to Facebook -- which is banned in Vietnam -- that lets users build profiles, post photos, send messages, share music, add friends, and catch the news. The full version should launch later this year.
One user you can't defriend? The government. According to the Wall Street Journal:
The catch is that users have to submit their full names and government-issued identity numbers before they can access the site. Security services monitor websites in Vietnam, whose authoritarian, one-party dictatorship treats dissidents ruthlessly.
The site marks a shift in tactics for Hanoi's Politburo members, who have more typically shut dissident bloggers and tried blocking Facebook Inc.'s flagship site to stop subversive thoughts from spreading online.
Think Facebook has privacy issues?
According to the Journal, Vietnam's Minister for Information and Communications, Le Doan Hop, believes the site is both a "trustworthy" alternative to foreign sites and one ripe with "culture, values, and benefits" for Vietnam's teenagers. When early articles about Ho Chi Minh didn't go viral, Vietnam Multimedia's online unit added English tests and state-approved videogames, including, according to the Journal, "a violent multiplayer contest featuring a band of militants bent on stopping the spread of global capitalism." Hop predicts about half of the Vietnamese population will sign up over the next five years.
Apparently, the Vietnamese aren't impressed:
Some Vietnamese have figured out how to skirt the Facebook ban by using proxy servers or tinkering with their computer settings. Others have launched online campaigns to boycott local Web sites such as go.vn despite its ongoing makeover. "Make 'go' go away," one person wrote in an online message.
Many Vietnamese shrug when queried about go.vn. "I didn't even know it existed," says Pham Thanh Cong, a fourth-year physics student at Hanoi Polytechnic as he waits his turn to play an online shoot-'em-up game at a street-side Internet café.
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images