Dark side of cyberspace proves hard to control

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 December, 2004, 12:00am

Despite repeated attempts by the state to control internet use, the dark side of cyberspace is thriving in fast-developing Vietnam.

In the most recent of several reported cases of internet-related violence this year, a 19-year-old Hanoi woman was bludgeoned to death in November by a boyfriend she had met through online chat rooms.

State media outlets said the man, in debt from his involvement in a smuggling operation, beat Nguyen Thi Phuong Anh to death in her home with a hammer in order to steal her motorbike and electronic goods.

As elsewhere, sex and pornography are popular internet drawcards in Vietnam, despite the communist government's efforts to put a stranglehold on what it sees as inappropriate internet use.

For several years, it has used firewalls to block sex sites, as well as those deemed politically subversive, and closed cybercafes where easy access to banned sites is available.

This year, a new police unit to battle internet porn and crime was introduced.

In a controversial move, the government has also started requiring customers of cybercafes to register their names before they go online.

However, with several thousand internet cafes nationwide crammed with youngsters, enforcing the measure appears likely to be as unworkable as attempts to control the internet itself.

Hanoi cybercafe owners, who the government wants to make responsible for the activities of their customers, say they are afraid of scaring off business by taking their clients' names.

'If I asked them for their personal information, they would go to another shop,' said one.

The young clientele's parents, meanwhile, are largely in the dark about what their children are up to on the internet.

Anh's parents said they were only vaguely aware of her chat-room activities.

Policing cyberspace is not likely to get any easier in Vietnam, as the government also encourages its use for economic development purposes.

The number of users is now officially estimated at 7 million, most of them under 30.