“Let me tell you something. In this society, there is no f*****g right or wrong. There are only the weak and the strong. That’s it. And you guys beat my brother, so I’m gonna beat you,” Kha Banh shouts at his opponents in one of his viral videos.

As soon as the tirade finishes, he puts up a hand – signalling a bunch of his bat-wielding henchmen to launch forward and attack.

The scene ends with Kha Banh triumphantly walking away from the fight with his rescued “brother” under his arm – a gambler who had failed to pay back a debt, and then asked for Banh’s protection from a loan shark.

As they walk away, text appears on screen explaining that the clip “reflects brotherhood”, with viewers advised not to gamble lest they disappoint their loved ones.

It’s a somewhat ironic proclamation, given that Kha Banh – real name Nguyen Ba Kha – was detained by police in his home province of Bac Ninh, Northern Vietnam, on April 2 on suspicion of gambling and drugs offences.

Vietnamese media reported the following day that the 26-year-old’s YouTube channel had been shut down. At the time of deactivation, his channel had more than 400 videos, 2 million subscribers, and was the 57th most subscribed channel in Vietnam. Many of his videos have since been re-uploaded to YouTube by other users.

Kha is one of Vietnam’s many “online gangsters” who frequently upload videos of themselves to YouTube and Facebook taunting their enemies, carrying weapons to fights, dancing half-naked in clubs, and burning motorbikes.

There’s money to be made with such antics, as well. Kha told the police that he could earn up to US$19,500 per month from YouTube – the average monthly wage in Vietnam is US$162, according to the country’s General Statistics Office.

Kinh Te Do Thi, a Vietnamese state-owned newspaper, has criticised YouTube for turning a blind eye to Kha’s apparent violations of its policies on violent or graphic content by letting his account stay active and monetised for more than two years.

Kha’s is not an isolated case, either. Duong Minh Tuyen, another YouTube gangster, had more than 500,000 subscribers and over 40 million views to his name. But the 31-year-old’s account was also deactivated the day after Kha was detained.

Tuyen gained popularity for his constant use of profanity in videos and the comments on them, leading his viewers and local media to give him the nickname thanh chui (god of cursing).

He netted himself a small fortune in the process, earning between US$5,000 and US$79,800 per month, according to Social Blade, a YouTube-certified statistics site. A 32-month jail term beginning in April 2017 for disturbing public order and destroying property only added to his notoriety, and a Facebook live-stream of his early release last September was littered with sympathetic comments from supporters.

At the time of writing, Tuyen’s Facebook account was still active with 804,823 followers. Many of his YouTube videos are also being recirculated online.

And Kha and Tuyen are only two of Vietnam’s online gangsters: there is Phu Le, with more than a million subscribers and 140 million views; Ngan T, with 172,000 subscribers and 24 million views; and Giang Ho Channel NNC, with 64,630 subscribers and 22.8 million views.

Many of their viewers and supporters are believed to be aged between 7 and 17.

“My 8th-grade brother learned Kha Banh’s signature dance move and does it all the time. He said everyone at his school is doing it. Our family can only forbid him at home, but we can’t really do anything when he’s at school. His school recently went camping and he said the whole school was dancing Kha Banh’s move,” said Hien Bui, a Facebook user in Da Nang.

hotos of Kha surrounded by a large number of youths asking for selfies a few months ago near a high school in northern Vietnam were widely circulated on social media.

Then on April 8, Kien Thuy High school in Hai Phong City used him as a case study on a literature exam question for gifted students, who were asked to write 400 words to express their thoughts about the online gangster.

As soon as a snapshot of the exam paper was posted on Facebook it went viral, stirring controversy on social media and in the local press. While some endorsed its social relevance and encouragement of creative thinking, others slammed it for glorifying a thug and his behaviour.

Viet Nguyen, 18, of Ho Chi Minh City, who saw the exam on Facebook, said: “It does encourage students to be up to date with what is going on in the world, but the goal should be to allow students to use their critical thinking to give their answer, not the ‘right’ one. I bet if some student wrote ‘I’m a fan of Kha Banh’, they would definitely be punished for their view.”

Dr Phung Duc Tung, director of Vietnam’s Mekong Development Research Institute, sees the rise of internet gangsters as a societal problem.

“I think the biggest problem of Vietnamese society right now, especially for the youth, is that they don’t have any role model, an ideal figure to look up to,” he said, pointing to previous generations’ heroes such as the communist country’s founding father Ho Chi Minh and soldiers who were praised as paragons of virtue.

Industrious workers and diligent farmers were likewise idolised in times gone by, according to Phung. “But now in modern times, Vietnamese society doesn’t have any role models. It’s a crisis of having no social standard and the lack of faith in society due to corruption and many social evils. Plus, our society uses money as a means to judge a person,” he said.

“All of these factors make young people prone to be attracted to people like Kha Banh who know how to use the online world to make money and become famous.”

1 Kha Banh in one of his viral videos. Photo: YouTubeKha Banh in one of his viral videos. Photo: YouTube Kha Banh in one of his viral videos. Photo: YouTube

“Let me tell you something. In this society, there is no f*****g right or wrong. There are only the weak and the strong. That’s it. And you guys beat my brother, so I’m gonna beat you,” Kha Banh shouts at his opponents in one of his viral videos.

As soon as the tirade finishes, he puts up a hand – signalling a bunch of his bat-wielding henchmen to launch forward and attack.

The scene ends with Kha Banh triumphantly walking away from the fight with his rescued “brother” under his arm – a gambler who had failed to pay back a debt, and then asked for Banh’s protection from a loan shark.

As they walk away, text appears on screen explaining that the clip “reflects brotherhood”, with viewers advised not to gamble lest they disappoint their loved ones.

It’s a somewhat ironic proclamation, given that Kha Banh – real name Nguyen Ba Kha – was detained by police in his home province of Bac Ninh, Northern Vietnam, on April 2 on suspicion of gambling and drugs offences. Kha Banh. Photo: YouTube Kha Banh. Photo: YouTube Share:

Vietnamese media reported the following day that the 26-year-old’s YouTube channel had been shut down. At the time of deactivation, his channel had more than 400 videos, 2 million subscribers, and was the 57th most subscribed channel in Vietnam. Many of his videos have since been re-uploaded to YouTube by other users. SUBSCRIBE TO This Week in Asia Get updates direct to your inbox By registering for these newsletters you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy

Kha is one of Vietnam’s many “online gangsters” who frequently upload videos of themselves to YouTube and Facebook taunting their enemies, carrying weapons to fights, dancing half-naked in clubs, and burning motorbikes.

There’s money to be made with such antics, as well. Kha told the police that he could earn up to US$19,500 per month from YouTube – the average monthly wage in Vietnam is US$162, according to the country’s General Statistics Office. Vietnam imposes draconian ‘China-like’ cybersecurity law

Kinh Te Do Thi, a Vietnamese state-owned newspaper, has criticised YouTube for turning a blind eye to Kha’s apparent violations of its policies on violent or graphic content by letting his account stay active and monetised for more than two years.

Kha’s is not an isolated case, either. Duong Minh Tuyen, another YouTube gangster, had more than 500,000 subscribers and over 40 million views to his name. But the 31-year-old’s account was also deactivated the day after Kha was detained.

Tuyen gained popularity for his constant use of profanity in videos and the comments on them, leading his viewers and local media to give him the nickname thanh chui (god of cursing).

He netted himself a small fortune in the process, earning between US$5,000 and US$79,800 per month, according to Social Blade, a YouTube-certified statistics site. A 32-month jail term beginning in April 2017 for disturbing public order and destroying property only added to his notoriety, and a Facebook live-stream of his early release last September was littered with sympathetic comments from supporters. Duong Minh Tuyen. Photo: Facebook Duong Minh Tuyen. Photo: Facebook Share:

At the time of writing, Tuyen’s Facebook account was still active with 804,823 followers. Many of his YouTube videos are also being recirculated online.

And Kha and Tuyen are only two of Vietnam’s online gangsters: there is Phu Le, with more than a million subscribers and 140 million views; Ngan T, with 172,000 subscribers and 24 million views; and Giang Ho Channel NNC, with 64,630 subscribers and 22.8 million views.

Many of their viewers and supporters are believed to be aged between 7 and 17.

“My 8th-grade brother learned Kha Banh’s signature dance move and does it all the time. He said everyone at his school is doing it. Our family can only forbid him at home, but we can’t really do anything when he’s at school. His school recently went camping and he said the whole school was dancing Kha Banh’s move,” said Hien Bui, a Facebook user in Da Nang.

Photos of Kha surrounded by a large number of youths asking for selfies a few months ago near a high school in northern Vietnam were widely circulated on social media.

Then on April 8, Kien Thuy High school in Hai Phong City used him as a case study on a literature exam question for gifted students, who were asked to write 400 words to express their thoughts about the online gangster.

As soon as a snapshot of the exam paper was posted on Facebook it went viral, stirring controversy on social media and in the local press. While some endorsed its social relevance and encouragement of creative thinking, others slammed it for glorifying a thug and his behaviour.

Viet Nguyen, 18, of Ho Chi Minh City, who saw the exam on Facebook, said: “It does encourage students to be up to date with what is going on in the world, but the goal should be to allow students to use their critical thinking to give their answer, not the ‘right’ one. I bet if some student wrote ‘I’m a fan of Kha Banh’, they would definitely be punished for their view.” Ho Chi Minh. Photo: AP Ho Chi Minh. Photo: AP Share:

Dr Phung Duc Tung, director of Vietnam’s Mekong Development Research Institute, sees the rise of internet gangsters as a societal problem.

“I think the biggest problem of Vietnamese society right now, especially for the youth, is that they don’t have any role model, an ideal figure to look up to,” he said, pointing to previous generations’ heroes such as the communist country’s founding father Ho Chi Minh and soldiers who were praised as paragons of virtue.

Industrious workers and diligent farmers were likewise idolised in times gone by, according to Phung. “But now in modern times, Vietnamese society doesn’t have any role models. It’s a crisis of having no social standard and the lack of faith in society due to corruption and many social evils. Plus, our society uses money as a means to judge a person,” he said.

“All of these factors make young people prone to be attracted to people like Kha Banh who know how to use the online world to make money and become famous.” Depression in girls linked to greater time spent on social media

The publicity given to Kha Banh and other “influencers” by the media helps expand their popularity, Phung said, adding that the government should devise a strategy to help curb the media’s constant streams of negative stories rather than primarily focusing on the political content of media reports.

The rise of social media gangsters with their vulgar language and violent messages echoes another real-life trend in Vietnam – the current endemic of school violence. Multiple videos have been uploaded online showing helpless students getting beaten up by gangs of other teens, often with no adults intervening.

“There have been few studies done on this topic in Vietnam to say that people like Kha Banh are the primary reason some young people endorse school violence. But he is definitely a factor helping normalise violence and uncivilised behaviour, as well as the idea that violence can be a solution,” said An Nguyen, a psychology lecturer at Hoa Sen University in Saigon.

Kha Banh may be a flash in the pan, but the phenomenon of toxic social media influencers will not die out any time soon, Nguyen said, as such reprobates offered young viewers a sense of belonging and acceptance for certain types of behaviour and lifestyles that would not normally be accepted at home or within their family circle.

“We may not be in the same social media circle that young people are in. YouTube and Facebook preference algorithms have to do with it – they show you stuff based on your likes,” he said, adding that he and many members of older generations would have never heard about Kha Banh if it were not for news reports.

As of January, Vietnam had 62 million active social media users, representing nearly two-thirds of the country’s population, according to research done by Simon Kemp, a digital media consultant based in Singapore.

Of them, 6 million were Facebook and Instagram users under the age of 18.

Vietnamese are most active on Facebook and YouTube, according to the research, spending 2.5 hours a day on social media across all devices.

“The challenge now is not just how adults help kids identify what’s good and bad for them online. What I’m afraid of is the unknown, of not knowing what they interact with on social media,” Nguyen said.

By Sen Nguyen - The South China Morning Post - May 1st , 2019