Bui Le Anh Thu: A Young Voice at Vietnam Internet Forum

Bui Le Anh Thu, 24, is the youngest panelist being invited for Vietnam Internet Forum (VIF19) under the theme of “Digital for Good”. Thu, a native of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), is a freelance journalist and a project manager for news literacy project initiated by U.S. Consulate for Vietnam. She used to work for Thanh Nien News, one of the leading Vietnamese language dailies providing latest world and domestic news and commentary.

In 2018, Thu has attended regional and international fellowships such as the YSEALI Academic Fellows, and the 2018 Institute for News Literacy Fellows in Asia. Both programs explores how to develop strategies in coping fake news, misinformation and disinformation in journalism and media around the globe.

During the Vietnam Internet Forum, Nai Nai from Fojo Media Institute had a chance to talk with Thu.

When you are invited to this internet forum, what comes to your mind?
“First in first, I thought that was my honor to be invited as a guest speaker for such a big event like Vietnam Internet Forum (VIF). Subsequently, I hope this would open a venue for me to widen my networking and knowledge as I am working in the field of journalism and news literacy project. Ultimately, I think this kind of event could ignite a spark in people’s mind about using digital for good purposes.”

In terms of combating against disinformation, what are the challenges for Vietnamese media and journalists?
“The most challenging thing is that the dependence of journalism on the government. In fact, journalist can cover those topics, but there’s not enough freedom for them to publish any truth, or fact that they found. Sometimes, they act as a loud speaker for the government. That’s why disinformation and fake news are widespread and people lost their trust in journalists.”

How serious is the issue of fake news in Vietnam, and how much Vietnamese journalists are prepared?
“Fake news is a serious issue for Vietnam. From what I can see, fake news in Vietnam mainly focus on public’s daily concern such as political, food, and medical problems. Like the case of fish sauce, commercial companies had a campaign claiming that the traditional fish sauce contains arsenic which is a very harmful substance to people’s health. This news was widespread and the sales of traditional fish sauce dropped which affected on people’s livelihood.

It’s hard for me to generalize but we can see that some newspapers such as Tuoi Tre is having the column called “Truth-Lies”, like fact-checking part to combat fake news or rumors. But in general, I do think that journalists in Vietnam do not consider fake news as a big issue, though fake news is a serious issue in the country. Some of them are not really equipped enough to debunk fake news. Fake news is an issue of no importance until the journalists themselves fall victim to it.”

You are leading the “News Literacy” project in fact checking in the area of NGO and universities. Can you give us how this project is unfolding?
My project is aim to equip students (university level) and NGO members news literacy skills in order to be smart readers. In terms of university students, especially journalism students, this can help them for their careers in the future to be better journalists. For NGO members, it helps them in combating fake news, which leave negative impact in their fields. We organize a 12-week study course under the instructions of professors and experienced journalists.”

How much relevant for UNESCO’s Fake News and Disinformation Handbook being translated into Vietnamese?
“I think the Vietnamese version needs to be improved, and the English one is very helpful for our classes. Still, it would be beneficial for me to design the syllabus for the courses as well as impacting those useful guidelines for my students taking into practice.

You can develop training courses from this handbook to help journalist to enhance their ability to counter fake news. The purpose of the handbook is to help journalist looking at the story in the audience’s view. Fake news is only dangerous when audience believe in it. The key thing is that journalist can debunk the fake news and help audience understand the real fact behind that.

So, the best is to train audience how to recognize fake news, and train journalist how to write about fake story, disinformation and misinformation. And, distribute such training information online to reach larger audience so that chances of spreading fake news will be declined.

Besides, UNESCO can help bring international news literacy workshop as we did with the US Consulate in HCMC on News literacy projects and fake news workshop for young audience.

About VIF19

  • The Vietnam Internet Forum 2019 (VIF19), the second forum since 2017, was held under the Theme–“Digital for Good” in Hanoi from March 20-21. The 2-day forum was also an important milestone of commemorating 50 years of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Sweden (1969-2019).
  • It was co-hosted by the Embassy of Sweden in Vietnam and the Hanoi People’s Committee. Other key co-organisers and partners are United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Lund University (Sweden) and the Vietnam Internet Association.
Fojo Media Institute
Fojo is an independent institution at the non-profit public Linnaeus University, one of Sweden’s biggest universities. In this capacity, Fojo stands free from commercial and political interests, free to make independent decisions on how to serve journalism, freedom of expression and democracy. Fojo works to promote free, independent and professional journalism around the world.