by Hong Minh
The very first State agency pact with a social forum carries certain risks, but they might be worth taking in this instance
Mixed-feelings ran high as the news broke last week of a Government agency signing a co-operation agreement with a highly popular online social forum.
There was some excitement, and a lot of consternation.
On January 11, the National Traffic Safety Committee signed a co-operation agreement with otofun.net, the biggest forum in northern Viet Nam for vehicle-owners with more than 250,000 active members and 30 million views a month.
The committee aims to use the forum as a channel to disseminate information and traffic regulations and policies, while the forum's members can directly contact the State agency regarding all traffic and transport issues.
Explaining the first-ever direct engagement with a social forum by a Government agency, the committee's deputy chairman Khuat Viet Hung said the move was a recognition that social networks had become a convenient and favoured channel of communication and dissemination of information.
He said it would be easy for the public to receive information on traffic safety via social networks, while authorities could receive opinions, suggestions and complaints from people regarding all kinds of traffic problems including rules, police behaviour, street signs and so on.
As an inter-sectoral committee comprising a number of ministries including transport, public security, education and training, the National Traffic Safety Committee could help resolve or forward to the relevant office all concerns and complaints from forum members, Hung said.
"We came to otofun.net as it has been running professionally for a long time and has gained prestige in doing so."
He also said that the committee expected to sign a similar agreement with otosaigon.com – the largest auto forum in southern Viet Nam – by the end of this month.
It was also seeking to co-operate with webtretho.com – one of the country's largest web forums for women and children – to propagate the wearing of helmets by children.
Initially, the co-operation would focus on campaigns calling on forums' members to ensure traffic safety by highlighting problems like drunk driving and driving in the wrong direction on roads, but in the long run, the committee would co-operate with the forums to organise traffic safety training courses for drivers.
Pros vs Cons
Ha Noi resident Nguyen Quang Huy, an active member of otofun.net, went out in the rain to witness the signing ceremony. He welcomed the initiative.
"Every year, thousands of innocent people die in traffic accidents. It's significant that State agencies have realised the importance of using social networks, especially here, to improve traffic safety and driving culture."
However, Huy's brother, Nguyen Quang Tuan, another active member, was worried that such co-operation with a State agency would make the forum lose its unique characteristics, particularly criticism and humour.
"I love the forum as we can discuss vehicles, transportation and traffic freely and humorously. Now, with the involvement of a serious State agency, I am not sure if this theme of the forum can be sustained."
Tran Thanh Trung shared a similar concern on the forum's Facebook group. He said that the national committee might supervise and manage the content of the forum, so he would not be free to post anything negative as he could do earlier.
However, administrator Nguyen Manh Thang said the forum would remain the same even as it supports the committee in disseminating information.
"In fact, we have already been building traffic awareness and a driving culture among our members over the last three years."
However this had had a limited reach, and co-operation with the national committee could expand it, he said.
"Of course, there will be a gap in the ways of thinking and doing between a State agency and a social web forum, one with its focus on slogans with a trite and hollow style, while the other is more funny and realistic for common people.
"However, we will surely find ways to harmonise, because, in the end, both of us want traffic safety for people."
Hung said his agency would never interfere in the content of the forum, saying it was a place for all members and their families to learn things by themselves.
"We always welcome all kinds of complaints and feedback from the people and will help to solve all problems. That's how social networks work," he said.
I have to say that right now, I am on the fence, but leaning slightly towards this somewhat strange marriage being a positive development.
Potentially, such an interactive phenomenon could bring about far-reaching changes, not just in tackling our considerable traffic woes, but other serious issues like human trafficking, smuggling, drug abuse and so on.
But maybe I am overreaching. What happens after the honeymoon is anybody's guess.
For now, since the goal of safer roads and fewer deaths is one that benefits everyone, let us give this union the benefit of doubt, even as we remain doubting Thomases. — VNS