On October 8, Nguyen Van Hung from the northern province of Bac Giang Province was fined VND10 million ($432.61) for publishing a video of himself stealing a piggy bank from his younger sister and brother on his YouTube channel, which has 2.92 million subscribers.
It was not his first offending video. Less than a month ago, he had been fined by local authorities for posting a clip showing how to make soup with unplucked chicken and having his family members eat it.
While both videos ignited a community backlash, they are not exceptions, unfortunately.
For several years now, videos with content that would be considered unhealthy, uncouth and unsavory in Vietnamese society have been rampant on the video streaming platform.
A video of Hung stealing his siblings’ piggy bank that has drawn flack over its immoral content. Photo by VnExpress/Luu Quy.
“Ghien My Go”, a YouTube channel with 4.5 million subscribers, posted a lot of videos with characters wearing highly revealing clothing, striking suggestive poses and narrating “adult stories.”
“Oh your outfits are so scanty, how can you wear that and post it on the Internet?” asked one viewer.
The answer is simple. Such displays increase the viewership and earnings of those who post these videos. The channel also had a series of videos about prostitutes and gangsters that earned millions of views.
Vulgarity, obscenity and violence seem to have become tricks of the trade for several YouTubers.
NTN Vlog, a channel opened by Nguyen Thanh Nam of Hanoi has nine million subscribers. In 2019, he posted a video of himself dropping 100 knives from the second floor onto a piece of meat on the ground floor. While this attracted more than 100,000 dislikes and criticism, his viewership has not suffered.
Several channels promoting the so-called “thug life” in Vietnam with videos of violence and law infringement including gambling, gang fights, property destruction and the flouting of traffic laws have also gained a lot of Vietnamese viewers.
Then there are other videos with nonsensical content.
In Ho Chi Minh City, Bao Ren, a channel with 1.47 million subscribers, is well known for executing challenges like “24 hours crawling in the city” and “Sleeping in the coffin,” all of which have garnered millions of views.
Several experts say this trend is worrying.
“The contents for young people nowadays is weird and dark, they encourage depraved entertainment, including thug life, with terrifying and shocking stories,” said sociologist Trinh Hoa Binh, adding that people can develop distorted mindsets and actions after watching such videos.
Creating content and becoming a YouTube Partner began to happen in Vietnam since 2007. The platform has become a stable source of income, generating thousands of dollars every month for the lucky few.
The country now has around 350 channels with over one million subscribers.
According to an experienced YouTuber, the CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) in Vietnam is $0.3, meaning video creators can earn $300 if they have one million views in the country.
It has been estimated that NTN Vlog is able to earn $71,000 – 1.2 million per year.
Such numbers have encouraged Vietnamese to create videos with shocking content to draw viewers.
NTN builds a model house with single-use straw, drawing the ire of several netizens. Photo courtesy of NTN.
With 64 million Internet users, 65 percent of Vietnam’s population, the demand for online entertainment in general and videos in particular is huge.
A report by the New York-based market research company Nielsen in 2016 found that 92 percent of internet users in Vietnam watch online video at least once a week, the highest rate in Southeast Asia.
“I click on YouTube every day and see those shocking videos, they are fun and easy to watch,” said Le Trong Anh, 21.
According to writer Pham Ngoc Tien in Hanoi, in order to attract young people looking for different content to satiate their curiosity, YouTubers are willing to create new videos that are easy to watch or have shocking content.
While Vietnam is taking measures against toxic and harmful content, fining several YouTubers posting videos that go against “traditional values” or have salacious content, the task is not easy.
Between early 2018 and mid-2019 the broadcasting, television and electronic information department ordered Google to remove nearly 8,000 clips it considered “toxic” and illegal on YouTube.
But at the end of the day both culture authorities and social media operators admit they simply cannot remove bad content as fast or easily as it is uploaded.
On October 5, PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc asked the Ministry of Information and Communications to work with the Ministry of Public Security and related agencies to deal with videos with harmful content on the internet.
Luu Dinh Phuc, head of the Department of Broadcasting and Electronic Information, said they had found dozens of thousands of videos with bad content.
“We have asked foreign social networks to follow Vietnam’s laws and create ways to coordinate with us,” Dinh Phuc said.
But it is not easy to define “unhealthy or bad content,” he added, explaining that people have different views on what constitutes these terms.
Social networks like YouTube also do not have clear definitions for “unhealthy videos,” said Nguyen Phi Thang, a YouTube expert working for a multi-channel network in HCMC.
“It is difficult to define what an unhealthy video is.”