OK, I’m calling it. Yesterday midday I noticed Facebook was suddenly not available, here in Phan Thiet, Vietnam. I couldn’t access it on wifi via a local ISP, nor could I get it on 3G via state-owned Vinaphone cell service (the Facebook iPhone app couldn’t pull it up either). By nightfall, there were complaints about facebook access popping up all over the country—from Saigon to Danang to Hanoi. Not everybody had difficulty accessing facebook—in fact many of my friends still could—but it seemed half of the people I know could not.
This isn't a big surprise. Vietnam started blocking Facebook in September 0f 2009 due to political speech concerns. There was never an official call to block it—but a government memo was leaked. In typical Vietnam fashion, the website block was not across the board—it was left to each ISP to implement on their own. Thus Facebook access varied a lot depending upon your location and service provider, but eventually most ISP’s cut off direct access.
Most of us came up with work-arounds, which included anonymous IP, encrypted servers, a special Google DNS or remote desktop access. Likewise, some service providers eased up the censorship, and after a few weeks it was possible to access Facebook directly on most cell phone services.
The new move—a tighter block on Facebook which circumvents some of the work-arounds, comes just a couple of weeks before the convening on the National Congress of Vietnam’s Communist Party. This only happens once ever several years and is a very big deal because a large portion of the government comes up for re-election. The government becomes concerned about any social elements that could threaten social and political stability during these sessions, and so the clamps tend to come down hard. We don't know for certain if this is the reason for the outage, but it seems highly likely.
Hopefully things will loosen back up after the congress is over. Hopefully the block won’t include other services as well, namely Twitter, Youtube, Blogger and other popular online resources. But there is always the possibility that these could be affected next.
If you are having trouble accessing Facebook it Vietnam, there appears to be a new backdoor available into the website via http://www.lisp4.facebook.com