Harmful network targets Vietnamese civil society: Facebook must take action

Viet Tan

Viet Tan Alert

October 28, 2022

Starting around October 20, a sophisticated network of fake Facebook accounts have inundated the comment section of well known Vietnamese Facebook users.

Dozens of activists have reported that their Facebook accounts have been spammed by repetitive messages from unknown users. The victims of the bot attacks have had to take their accounts private to prevent the spam.

Prominent Facebook pages with over a million followers — including Viet Tan and the Vietnamese-language pages of Radio Free Asia and Voice of America — have also been targeted. The one commonality among all the targeted Facebook accounts/pages is that they belong to activists and independent media.

Written in Vietnamese, the spam messages falsely allege that Viet Tan had abandoned one of its members in Thailand who was seeking political asylum. Two common messages (translated into English) were: “The Viet Tan leadership needs to help Mr. Ke resolve his exile status” and “Viet Tan let him leave Thailand, give Mr. Ke his due.”

As of October 28, the bot attacks have continued seemingly unimpeded — even though many of the targeted users have tried to report the abuse. It is not clear whether Meta is monitoring the problem or taking any action.

In 2021, whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed that Facebook executives were aware of “adversarial harmful networks” in Vietnam responsible for coordinated social harm, mass reporting, and brigading. According to internal Facebook documents, the company had “med/high confidence” that these activities were commissioned and directed by Vietnamese government and military entities. One of the internal company documents also referred to the existence of 15 million fake accounts in Vietnam.

In recent years, so-called public opinion shapers (du luan vien) coordinated by the Vietnamese authorities have spammed the Facebook accounts of Vietnamese civil society groups with misinformation. These government trolls are also known to falsely report content for takedown and issue physical threats.

Viet Tan urges Meta to take immediate action to remove the fake accounts, shutdown the harmful network(s), and ensure a safe platform.

Examples of spam directed at Vietnamese civil society

Translation: The Viet Tan leadership needs to help Mr. Ke resolve his exile status.

Translation: Viet Tan let him leave Thailand, give Mr. Ke his due.

Additional excerpts of spam messages