HANOI (Reuters) – A Facebook-style social network was launched in Vietnam on Tuesday, following calls by the Communist-ruled government for domestic tech companies to create alternatives to U.S. tech giants Facebook and Google.
Gapo, a mobile app that lets users create personal profiles and share posts to a Facebook style “news feed”, has received 500 billion dong ($21.55 million) in funding from tech corporation G-Group, its chief executive, Ha Trung Kien, said.
“Vietnamese users and enterprises are relying too much on Facebook as there are not so many social networks for them to choose from,” Kien said, adding that Gapo plans to reach 3 million users in 2019 and 20 million by January 2021.
Despite economic reforms and increasing openness to social change, the ruling Communist Party retains tight media censorship in Vietnam and does not tolerate dissent.
An increasing number of activists and dissidents have been arrested or tried over the last year for posting online content considered to be “anti state”.
Nearly 10% of the 128 prisoners held in the Southeast Asian country for expressing dissenting views were jailed for posting anti-state comments on social media platforms such as Facebook, Amnesty International said in May.
Vietnam has also ramped up pressure on firms such as Google and Facebook with a controversial cybersecurity law that took effect in January.
Global technology firms and rights groups have pushed back against the law, which requires companies to set up offices in Vietnam and store data there.
In September 2018, Information Minister Nguyen Manh Hung urged Vietnamese companies to create viable domestic alternatives to foreign social media platforms.
Last month, Vietnam asked companies not to advertise on videos hosted by Google’s YouTube that contain “anti-state” propaganda.
Domestic social platforms built prior to Gapo, such as VietnamTa and Hahalolo are also similar to Facebook, although neither has managed to build a large user base.
Gapo has teamed with Sony Music Entertainment as a strategic partner to feature music content on the app, it said in a statement.
Reporting by Phuong Nguyen; Editing by James Pearson and Clarence Fernandez