11/10/2021, 13.29
VIETNAM
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Facebook unblocks 'saltbae' hashtag, but helps government repression

After paying homage to Karl Marx at his grave, Vietnamese delegates at COP26 made a stop in London to eat gold-encrusted steaks. The video showing the incident was removed; but it was accessible long enough to spark outrage on social media. The Vietnamese government has long had an agreement with Facebook to remove online “anti-state” content.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Yesterday the hashtag #saltbae was blocked all over the world, before Facebook operator Meta (ex Facebook) unblocked it. “[W]e are investigating why this happened," a Facebook spokesperson told Reuters.

Instagram and TikTok users are well aware that Salt Bae is the nickname for Nusret Gökçe, a Turkish chef who went viral for the way he theatrically seasons and slices cuts of meats.

During their visit to the United Kingdom for COP26, the Vietnamese delegation, led by Public Security Minister General To Lam, paid homage to Karl Marx’s grave to "remember the source of the water we drink", Vietnamese state media reported, citing a Vietnamese proverb about paying respects,

Afterwards, they dined at Nusr-Et, London restaurant owned by Nusret Gökçe, ordering three gold-encrusted pieces of beef.

No one has seen the bill, but a gold-encrusted steak can cost from £850 to £1,500 (US$ 1,140 to US$ 2,015). And that is without drinks, side dishes or the 15% service charge.

A video showing Salt Bae (Gökçe) feeding General To Lam was originally posted on the chef’s official TikTok account. Although it was removed, it sparked controversy in Vietnam.

A minister in the communist state earns between US0 and US0, at a time when many Vietnamese suffer from food shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"My tax money has been used for luxury," Radio Free Asia quoted one person as saying.

It should be noted that voices of criticism of the Vietnamese government have been blocked all over the world, not only in Vietnam, which ranks fifth lowest in press freedom, this according to Reporters Without Borders.

A few weeks ago, the Facebook Papers scandal revealed that the Communist Party of Vietnam struck a deal with Mark Zuckerberg to eliminate domestic dissenting in order “to ensure our services remain available for millions of people who rely on them every day,” according to a company statement.

Zuckerberg is in a bind; either accept Vietnam’s demands or risk being shut out of one of its lucrative markets which. With its 60 million users, it is worth a billion dollars in annual revenue.

Facebook and TikTok have declined requests for comments about whether the Vietnamese government asked them to remove the video about its delegates eating at Salt Bae’s restaurant.

Before Vietnam's party congress in January this year, when the country picked its Central Committee for the next five years, Facebook took down posts deemed "anti-state", giving the authorities almost absolute power over shared content on social media.

According to the company's Transparency Report, the number of times Facebook restricted content in Vietnam has gone up by 983 per cent since 2019.

This year three journalists were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 11 and 15 years after they were found guilty of spreading anti-state propaganda.

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