Laos: Cautionary Tales

Hey! So it’s been a while since I’ve added anything to this blog, but I thought I would take another crack at it since I’m already writing another blog.

I miss being a part of the conversation of China, and other socialist-minded countries. I would like to continue looking at how they deal with social media. I wanna take a look at Laos this time.

For those who may not know, Laos or the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a Southeast Asian country sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam. It is another Asian nation with a communist government. They have elections for a president and vice president every five years, but no limit on how many terms a president or vice president can serve.

Like China, social media in Laos is often restricted and those critical of the government’s decisions can face harsh repercussions. Facebook is allowed like in Vietnam, but Laotian Facebook users must be careful about what they say in regards to their own government.

A June, 2016 article by Al Jazeera reports individuals being publicly shamed for their comments on Facebook, and forced to apologize for their actions on live TV: “From now on I will behave well, change my attitude and stop all activities that betray the nation.”

This was the statement from one of the men forced to apologize. This must be really hard on an individual in a country where honor and shame are important factors to the culture. Not only has he been publicly shamed, but it will probably make his family look bad too.

According to the Laotian Times, the growing popularity of social media in the country is giving the Laotian government more leverage in how it interacts with its citizens. As is common with other Marxist-Leninist governments, there were accusations of media control to bend the truth in their favor.

This article states that the government is using social media, and Facebook specifically to prove those allegations wrong, and that they are working on transparency:

“…newspapers, television, radio, magazines, and other media outlets scurried to get the news out about the new leadership’s sincere attempt to solve some of the longstanding social ills that had plagued the country.”

Despite this attempt, public use of Facebook still comes with a catch. A 2013 piece by Radio Free Asia states that the government instituting a policy that punishes users for publishing “inaccurate or inappropriate content.” This mirrors the country’s already strict mainstream media control, reported by the BBC as strictly controlled:

“Slandering the state, distorting party policies and spreading false rumors are all criminal offenses.”

This could explain the negative reactions to the country’s attempt to the government’s attempt at online transparency in the Times article. Many people see the action as late, and halfhearted:

“This skepticism was testament to the fact that despite copious positive news coverage of the government’s activities, there has always been some disconnect between the people of Laos and its leaders.”

According to Freedom House, a website sharing statistics of press freedom around the world, Laotian press is very restricted. Because the penalties of writing negatively about the government are so high, journalists within the country often practice self-censorship to save themselves from future headaches.

The forced apology is apparently a rare incident, according to Freedom House. At least when it comes to mainstream media, censorship by both the state and writers themselves is so prevalent that “physical attacks and extralegal intimidation aimed at journalists are rare.” It was because the men were so openly critical on Facebook that they received such a public reaction.

According to a 2012 report by We Are Social, a website sharing all of the ways social media affects people on an international level, Facebook is still used more than any other  medium in Laos, with “581 signing up to the network everyday.” Those numbers have probably changed since then, but it’s a good indicator of Facebook’s impact and the government’s concern about it.

Twitter is also available in Laos for “those with web access,” but there isn’t nearly as much information about Twitter users as Facebook users. Those who tweet content that the government would disapprove of would face similar reprimanding by the government that Radio Free Asia mentioned about Facebook users.

Laos is a secretive country. We still have a lot to learn about it, and how it’s people want to reach out to the world. They are trying, but the government place a lot of roadblocks in the way.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s