Internet in Việt Nam

A Vietnamese colleague asked me if the story was true:

Did President Obama and his wife really file divorce papers?

I had to laugh.

I had already noticed this “report” on the Internet and my BS detector had made a quick, accurate analysis.

This bit of non-news, I learned later, originated from a joke on Twitter.

The Internet has a way of making the world bigger and smaller at the same time – and also more knowledgeable and, perhaps, more inane.

The Information Age is also the Misinformation Age –something I see every day on Facebook.

So I’m trying to get a better understanding of what the Internet – a freewheeling medium where I come from – means for Việt Nam and the Vietnamese.

Here, Facebook is popular.

In a matter of minutes, Vietnamese and expats who want to access Facebook can learn the work-arounds to log on the social networking site.

Understand that, for a decade before moving to Việt Nam, much of my work as a reporter in Silicon Valley concerned the Internet’s impact on American society, business and politics.

The years I spent covering the rise of Facebook helped turn me into something of an FB addict – though it might have happened anyway.

Certainly the Internet brings more news about the wider world to Việt Nam, and dynamic features like FB may bring at least the Vietnamese closer together – both here and throughout the world.

By historic happenstance, the Internet was transformed into a mass medium with the advent of the first successful browsers to surf the web in the mid-1990s, in roughly the same period that Việt Nam and the U.S. were establishing full diplomatic relations, an important step toward Vietnam’s integration into the global community and economy.

Việt Nam may be unique in the world in having such a large population of young people who have grown up with this technology.

In America, this generation includes the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the poster nerd of a new generation of tech revolutionaries.

In Hồ Chí Minh City, some Silicon Valley venture capitalists and companies like Intel are actively looking for Việt Nam’s version of Zuckerberg.

To me, one of the most interesting dimensions of FB is its function as a virtual public square.

For the last several weeks, America’s presidential campaign has played out in colorful, contentious fashion among my friends.

FB has intensified the way that American politics is so engaging and entertaining, not unlike a great sporting spectacle.

Arguments get heated, but friends (usually) stay friends.

“We’re just shaking our pom-poms,” as one Obama-bashing climate-change denier put it.

Việt Nam’s political culture is, shall we say, quite different.

A new friend explained it this way:

If you see a group of Vietnamese guys having a lively conversation in café, they’re probably just talking about girls or ways to make money.

To them, talking about politics is boring.

The Internet, however, can make it more interesting.

One Vietnamese friend, for example, used FB to make a political point – by sharing reports of the discovery of an old Chinese map that reveals that Trường  Sa, also known as the Spratly Islands, was not considered Chinese territory, contrary to the claims that Beijing makes today.






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