Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Laos Warns Facebook Users Who Disrupt ‘Social Order, Undermine Security'

Women use a laptop to surf the Internet at a
classroom in Vientiane in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of a citizen journalist
Radio Free Asia - July 14, 2014

Authorities in Laos have warned Facebook users that their accounts would be blocked if they posted information that “disrupt social order and undermine security.” 

The warning was made at the National Assembly, the country’s rubber stamp parliament, last week amid reports that the one party Communist government is drafting at least three new laws to regulate online information.

Lao Minister of Post and Telecommunications, Hiem Phommachanh, told parliament on Thursday that “technical officials” were taking steps to “block false information and some accounts that target to tarnish the reputation of individuals, disrupt social order, and tarnish the image of the country and the government,” according to state-run Vientiane Times.

Officials have said that some Facebook users had signed up without using their real names, making it difficult to trace their true identities, the paper said.

The officials also alleged that some users were found to be circulating “false information” to “disrupt social order and undermine security.”

Draft regulations

The Vientiane Times had said last month that the authorities are drafting regulations to streamline the use of social media.

The paper cited proposed regulations such as “Cybercrime Law,” “Information and Technology Law” and a “Prime Ministerial Decree.”

No details of the regulations were provided.

The draft regulations are expected to be completed this year, the newspaper quoted Keovisouk Solaphom, acting director-general of the Lao National Internet Centre, as saying.

Minister Hiem however assured lawmakers that Laos would not block Facebook as a whole, saying that social media was “useful” as a communication channel.

The Lao Communist Party leadership, which has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1975, has long enforced strict controls on broadcast and print media in the country, where only about 8 percent of the population has access to the Internet. 

Large jump

However, social media use has become increasingly prominent in Laos in recent years, especially among the younger population.

There has been a large jump in the number of Facebook users, from 200,000 users in 2012 to 530,000 as of May this year, 82 percent of whom are under 30 years old, according to Keovisouk.

Last month, Vientiane Times cited rumors circulated on Facebook of foreign traffickers of human organs operating in a southeast province, causing “panic” among local residents.

Beyond that, “bad elements” have used social media to “tarnish” the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and government policies, the paper added. 

It was also alleged that Lao social media posted unfounded reports on a Lao Airlines plane crash last year.

In the nation's worst known air disaster, the plane plunged into the Mekong River killing all 49 people on board.

Social media users had posted photos of the wrong plane, and one man had had to announce on Facebook that he was not dead after users speculated he had been on the flight, a report said

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Di Hoa Le.

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