An anonymous reader shares a report: For months, Bui Van Thuan, a chemistry teacher turned crusading blogger in Vietnam, published one scathing Facebook post after another on a land dispute between villagers and the communist government. In a country with no independent media, Facebook provides the only platform where Vietnamese can read about contentious topics such as Dong Tam, a village outside Hanoi where residents were fighting authorities' plans to seize farmland to build a factory. Believing a confrontation was inevitable, the 40-year-old Thuan condemned the country's leaders in a Jan. 7 post. "Your crimes will be engraved on my mind," he wrote. "I know you -- the land robbers -- will do everything, however cruel it is, to grab the people's land." Facebook blocked his account the next day at the governmentâ(TM)s insistence, preventing 60 million Vietnamese users from seeing his posts. One day later, as Thuan had warned, police stormed Dong Tam with tear gas and grenades. A village leader and three officers were killed.
For three months, Thuan's Facebook account remained suspended. Then the company told him the ban would be permanent. "We have confirmed that you are not eligible to use Facebook," the message read in Vietnamese. Thuan's blacklisting, which the Menlo Park-based social media giant now calls a "mistake," illustrates how willingly the company has acquiesced to censorship demands from an authoritarian government. Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, say the platform protects free expression except in narrow circumstances, such as when it incites violence. But in countries including Cuba, India, Israel, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey, Facebook routinely restricts posts that governments deem sensitive or off-limits. Nowhere is that truer than in Vietnam. Facebook, whose site was translated into Vietnamese in 2008, now counts more than half the country's people among its account holders. The popular platform has enabled government critics and pro-democracy activists -- in both Vietnam and the United States -- to bypass the communist system's strict controls on the media. But in the last several years, the company has repeatedly censored dissent in Vietnam, trying to placate a repressive government that has threatened to shut Facebook down if it does not comply, The Times found.
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