The Vietnamese government's version of Facebook is using videogames to attract citizens so that it can keep tabs on them more easily.
When you're a country that wants to control its population more adequately, Facebook isn't an ideal website for them to be on because there's just too much information to censor. The Vietnamese government knows this and is countering the likes of Facebook with its own social networking website called go.vn. After what may have been a spotty launch, the government has turned to videogames to lure the nation's youth to the site.
Go.vn, created by Vietnam Multimedia, is just like Facebook in that it allows users to post photos and message each other, except it's totally run by the government and users have to submit their full names and government-issued identity numbers to sign up. Vietnam security services are known for monitoring websites to control political dissent, and it's unlikely that go.vn is any exception. Vietnam's communist government has been known to jail opponents and tries to block the passage of unfavorable information through the web.
Go.vn launched on May 19 and is still building up to what it hopes to be with a staff of 400. Vietnamese Minister for Information and Communications Le Doan Hop calls it "trustworthy" competition that imparts "culture, values, and benefits." The government posts English tests, articles about Ho Chi Minh, and outlandish world news, but the latest attempt to get people interested is in state-approved videogames.
One game is described as a "violent multiplayer contest featuring a band of militants bent on stopping the spread of global capitalism." Vietnam Multimedia vice-director Phan Anh Tuan hopes that cheap access to videogames will bring in a "mass following." Meanwhile, Vietnamese youth either don't know that go.vn exists, or have launched campaigns to boycott the government-run website. Vietnamese citizens have been exposed to a new level of media information recently thanks to the lessening popularity of censored television and newspapers, and internet use that saw nearly 20% growth in the past year.
The Vietnamese government predicts that 40 million people will be drawn to go.vn by 2015: almost half of Vietnam's population. It's the "biggest online investment" for the Vietnamese government of all time, though specific numbers for the site haven't been released. I know it's really hard to look at a website like this in an accurate light from a foreign country where freedom is at its utmost, but I can't help thinking that it sounds really evil. It's so overtly a government-run website, from a government that is apparently known for censorship and cracking down on dissidents, that I can't imagine why anyone would even want to go near it. Its best strength, in my view, will probably be in hiding what it really is.