Vietnam launches its own Facebook killer

Vietnam's Communist leaders have discovered a new way to tackle the menace of social networks - by creating their own, complete with online videogames.

The south-east Asian state is mad for the web, with 26 million users recorded online in August, writes the Wall Street Journal. That's more than 30 per cent of its 85 million population, a rise of 18 per cent on the same time last year.

But in spite - or perhaps because - of its popularity, the leadership in Hanoi has been suspicious of the web, attempting to block access to sites such as Facebook. In March, security company McAfee reported that it had found malicious software designed to spy on the activities of Vietnamese dissidents.

Now the Politburo has switched to a different tactic: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

The country has launched its own answer to Facebook, by the name of Go.vn. A trial version of the site was launched on Vietnamese revolutionary hero Ho Chi Minh's birthday, May 19th, by state-owned Vietnam Multimedia Corp. A full version is expected by the end of the year.

The aim of the site is to lure students and other young users away from the dangers of dabbling in Western social networks like Facebook - and takes the one-party state's surveillance regime into the digital age.

Users must enter their full names and identity numbers in order to open an account where they can make friends and upload pictures, as well as making use of Facebook-style features such as image tagging, poking and instant messaging. All under the watchful eye of the country's security services.

But after an unsurprisingly lukewarm first few months, Go.vn's developers are now going all-out to woo the nation's teenagers with a raft of state-approved videogames and features such as English tests to spice up the existing articles on Uncle Ho's early life.

Vietnam's Minister for Information and Communications, Le Doan Hop (pictured), predicts more than 40 million people will sign up for the site by 2015.

Not everyone is quite so optimistic. A growing number of Vietnamese use anonymising proxy servers to get around the state's restrictive internet filtering, and have launched campaigns to boycott the local Facebook killer.

"Make 'Go' go away," one wag wrote on an online forum.