Vietnam to open probe into TikTok over ‘harmful’ content

As TikTok faces growing calls to have its app removed from several countries, Vietnam is set to launch a probe into the video-sharing platform over allegedly distributing “harmful content and false information.”

Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications on Thursday (April 6) said it will conduct a “comprehensive inspection” into TikTok next month, warning that it could impose “strict fines” on the company if it is found to have violated regulations.

The ministry said TikTok’s Vietnam arm recently took down some 2.43 million videos uploaded by Vietnamese users in the first quarter of 2023 over violations of community guidelines.

“They were removed for violating guidelines related to nudity, sexual acts involving minors or inciting violence but also for frightening content, harassment, bullying, suicides, and others,” the information ministry said.

While social media platforms like TikTok, Meta-owned Facebook and YouTube are cross-border applications with international standards, they are required to comply with Vietnam’s laws, including regulations on content management, tax payments, and advertisement, the information ministry said.

TikTok entered the Vietnam market in 2019 following a year of beta testing, the ministry notes.

To date, TikTok has around 49.9 million users aged 18 and above in the country, making Vietnam the sixth country with the biggest number of TikTok users, the ministry said, citing data from research firm DataReportal.

In the second quarter of 2022, TikTok paid VND 34.5 billion (approx. USD $1.5 million) of taxes to Vietnam.

Ministry representative Le Quang Tu Do told a news conference that moderating content on TikTok was “far more difficult” than on other platforms, Reuters reported.

“We will need tougher measures to combat that content, removal only is not enough,” Do reportedly said.

When asked if the Chinese app would be banned in Vietnam, Do said platforms who did not comply with local rules would not be welcome, according to the newswire.

In response to Vietnam’s probe, TikTok Vietnam said the investigation does not single out TikTok.

“This is an interdisciplinary inspection activity planned by the government and in line with Vietnam law for companies operating in Vietnam, not only TikTok,” TikTok Vietnam was quoted by Reuters as saying.

TikTok has already updated its guidelines, which are expected to take effect from April 21, the news outlet added.

Vietnam is the latest country to launch an investigation into TikTok following on several other investigations by countries like Canada and the European Union.

In February, a senior TikTok executive said TikTok is likely to be subject to tougher EU online content rules as the number of its active users exceed a threshold set out under the Digital Services Act.

Just last week, TikTok was fined £12.7 million (approx. $15.8 million) in the UK by the country’s Information Commissioner’s Office for a number of data protection breaches including ‘misusing children’s data’.

The developments come as Western countries — including the UK, the US and Canada, France, the European Union, New Zealand and Australia — ban the use of the app on federal devices over national security concerns.

Vietnam has yet to impose a similar move, while India and Pakistan have already imposed outright bans on TikTok.

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