- Facebook deletes parts of anti-state posts for local users in Vietnam.
- Facebook has faced pressure to take down anti-government content in different countries in the past.
- Vietnamese telecommunication restricted access at a time when people need services like Facebook.
The Facebook sources said the company typically resists requests to block access to user posts in a specific country, but the pressure of having its local servers impeded had forced it to comply.
"To be clear, that does not mean we will be complying with every request that the government sends us. But we did commit to restricting significantly more content," one source said.
Facebook's statement said: "We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and work hard to protect and defend this important civil liberty around the world ...
"However, we have taken this action to ensure our services remain available and usable for millions of people in Vietnam, who rely on them every day".
Since 2016, Vietnam has become of one of Facebook's biggest markets in Asia.
According to Ants, a Vietnam-based market researcher, digital advertising revenue in Vietnam amounted to around $550 million in 2018, 70% of which went to U.S. social media giants Facebook and Google (GOOGL.O).
The server shutdown began in mid-February and persisted until early April, the sources said, at the same time as concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus were intensifying.
With Facebook usage so widespread in Vietnam, users began to notice that access was slow to Facebook as well as its Messenger chatting app and its picture-blogging site, Instagram.
State media at the time blamed the slowdown on maintenance to undersea cables, and state telecoms firms apologised for unstable access to Facebook.
"VNPT and partners are actively working to check and rectify the problem," VNPT said in a statement at the time.
But behind the scenes, as Facebook struggled to maintain its services, it was talking to the government, the sources said.
"Once we committed to restricting more content, then after that, the servers were turned back online by the telecommunications operators," one source said.
The second source contrasted the drop in traffic in Vietnam with a surge elsewhere as dozens of countries put in place restrictions on movement that encouraged separated friends and families to turn to Facebook.
"Vietnamese telcos were unique in restricting access at a time when people need services like Facebook. It was a sharp contrast with other places in the world," they said. "Thankfully, that's now resolved".