Vietnam's ruling communist party isn't too psyched about the idea of its citizens using Facebook and other social networking sites. So they've made their own: It's called go.vn, and you need your government-issued I.D. number to sign up.
Go.vn—"a 'trustworthy' alternative to foreign sites"—is a brainchild of Vietnam Multimedia Corp., a state-owned media company. To get an account, users must give their full, real names and the government-issued I.D. numbers; this way, the government can monitor your usage and make sure you're not doing anything bad, like fomenting dissent or repeatedly checking out your ex's profile.
But it's more than just a simple Facebook rip—it's also a news and games portal. Originally, content focused on the exploits of independence leader Ho Chi Minh and other Vietnamese communist heroes, but when those articles failed to garner much of an audience, the site expanded:
The stream of news on the home page recently included an item on local beauty queens, news of a South Carolina fisherman who caught a fish that had human-like teeth, and word that British intelligence services once experimented with semen as an invisible ink.
Sounds kind of like... Gawker? That's not all you get, either:
The team has added online English tests and several state-approved videogames, including a violent multiplayer contest featuring a band of militants bent on stopping the spread of global capitalism.
That's way better than Farmville.
The government hasn't released any numbers yet (according to the Wall Street Journal, "many Vietnamese shrug when queried about go.vn"), so it's unclear exactly how much of a force go.vn is. But it probably isn't going anywhere soon. Closed, state-sponsored social networks are likely to pop up more and more often in authoritarian countries where the state feels pressure to allow a certain level of internet freedom—especially in places like Vietnam, which has a huge and fast-growing population of internet users.
And, in the end, networks like go.vn may not be as different from sites like Facebook as we think. Most people still use their real names on Facebook, making it easy to attribute comments and activity, and while to the best of our knowledge the site isn't regularly monitored by the company itself or the U.S. government, all of a given user's activity—and all of the data he or she enters—is saved to Facebook's servers. Hopefully you'll never have to enter your social security number to access Facebook. But, you know, you have nothing to lose but your privacy.