2018 Vietnam Cyber Dialogue

Published April 3, 2018

Editor's note: This segment is part of Loa's special coverage of the 2018 Internet Freedom Festival. It appears in Episode 78.

The second annual Vietnam Cyber Dialogue, VCD, took place one day before the start of the this year’s Internet Freedom Festival. Co-hosted by Article 19, Reporters without Borders, and Việt Tân, of which Loa is a project, the program was designed to address increasing online and offline threats in Việt Nam and strengthen ties between activists and allies. 

VCD is an opportunity for different actors to learn about Việt Nam’s digital landscape and figure out the ways they can best serve netizens and activists. 

Some of the key voices coming out of this year’s gathering were those of frontline activists, such as Nguyễn Trung Trọng Nghĩa, the son of political prisoner Pastor Nguyễn Trung Tôn. Nghĩa, better known as Effy, is a 23-year-old video blogger. Effy has been traveling around the world to advocate on behalf of his father, whose trial will take place on April 5. Effy was struck by the array of participants at the program. 

He tells Loa, “It was really great to be able to meet so many experts in IT, doing advocacy, creating apps to protect human rights defenders all around the world, and meeting people with great stories all over the world, and also to see a lot of other Vietnamese activists!” 

One participant developing a tool for activists is Raphael Mimoun. He created Whistler, a mobile app designed to provide human rights defenders a way to securely document abuses and report the information to key contacts or share to the public. VCD was an opportunity for him to gain insight on the needs of those on the ground. 

“It’s very easy to get caught up in a bubble of development where you think what people need on the ground, and develop something based on that, [but] it actually doesn’t fit with the actual threat models and the actual developments on the ground,” Mimoun explains. “The VCD is a way for me and for us technologists to hear out exactly what people need, and how our visions for the tool fits with those needs. It’s been a fascinating experience actually sitting one day at VCD is probably worth like two or three months of thinking through what’s needed, what’s not needed. It’s a very useful experience and very useful forum for technologists.”

Meanwhile, for Fan, another participant, VCD captured an optimistic outlook on Việt Nam’s future. He says, “I find even though there’s a lot of challenges coming from inside from Việt Nam, I find that the community is so optimistic. Comparing to neighboring countries, there’s still so many hopes for internet freedom, for freedom of expression in Việt Nam, and I think that’s great.”

Young people's technological abilities play a large role in the country's budding civil society. 

“Young Vietnamese people are really good at using new technologies to circumvent censorship put in place by the government. They are very tech savvy and they are very aware of the basic rights of expression. I think that civil society is forming in Việt Nam and it’s very active scene, that’s really exciting to see,” says Fan.

As a member of that civil society, Effy now sees just how crucial it is to be aware of what netizens are faced with, and to practice safe digital security. 

“What we are doing [could impact] whether people get imprisoned or not,” he says. “Sometimes, other people get hurt or get killed. It’s very important that we are able to secure our laptops, our phones, our communication, our physical body, to protect other people and protect ourselves, and to get our work to be more effective.”