Creating Apps for Political Expression

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Creating Apps for Political Expression
Presenter(s) Duy Hoang, Nathan Tran
Organization(s) Viet Tan
Project(s) Lá Phiếu (Ballot) App
Country(ies) USA
Social media @viettan
2017 theme Tools & Technology

With the internet creating public and political spaces in restrictive societies, the development of mobile apps including a recent ballot app have pushed these boundaries and encouraged users to freely express their political views by casting a shadow vote for the first time during Vietnam’s National Assembly election. Participants will be provided with a quick snapshot of Vietnam’s political and media landscape before discussing how developing apps can empower netizens to share their political beliefs.

This session aims to provide some ideas and inspire participants into developing an app which can increase further reach to the average smartphone and/or tablet user and empower them to freely express their political views. This will also provide an opportunity for collaboration among activists and app developers to produce something creative which can engage the average user.

About the Presenters

Duy "Dan" Hoang is the Managing Director for Viet Tan, a pro-democracy organization. He holds an MBA from the University of Chicago. Before becoming a full-time democracy activist, he worked as an investment banker for over 10 years. He was a principal financial officer at the International Finance Corporation, the private-sector arm of the World Bank, where he was responsible for IFC’s local currency financing programs in Asia and Eastern Europe.

Nathan Tran is an IT specialist and digital security trainer for Viet Tan. He is also a contributor for - a circumvention and digital security portal aimed at Vietnamese netizens. As part of No Firewall, Nathan has localized several software into Vietnamese including: Chatsecure, Orbot, Martus, Storymaker, Lantern, Crytocat, TextSecure and EFF's Surveillance Self-Defence.

Format Panel Discussion
Target Groups
Length 1 hour
Skill Level Intermediate
Language English

The Experiment

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam holds their national assembly elections every five years. In 2016, the 500 national assembly seats were up for grabs once again. However, candidates are known to be pre-selected by Vietnamese Fatherland Front, an umbrella organization of pro-government "mass movements" in Vietnam. In an unprecedented move, a large number of independent candidates ran for office. Viet Tan and other Vietnamese civil society organisations decided to conduct an experiment to see who the people really wanted to vote for by creating Lá Phiếu ("Ballot" in Vietnamese) app and an opportunity for free political expression.


How the Lá Phiếu app unfolded
Date Event
January-February Many activists announce they will run as independent candidates
February Viet Tan and other civic groups initiate Lá Phiếu project
  • Design mock-up (
  • Outsource the development (
  • Build backend server (OVH ISP)
  • Create database and collect information
Late April Android app coding finished
Early May Finalize Android app, iron out issues. Integrate circumvention (domain fronting) by Guardian
Mid-May Lá Phiếu app launched on Google Play
May 21 DDoS attack against Lá Phiếu app
May 22 National Assembly election in Vietnam

Lá Phiếu App

Lá Phiếu app was launched for Android and was unable to be complete for iOS due to lack of resources. Additionally, it was found that 65% Vietnamese mobile users were on Android. In the short time frame, the app received more than 5,000 downloads and a 4.3 rating. It showed a list of all the potential candidates per district including independent and communist party candidates. Content is displayed for each candidate indicating their party affiliation, district, age, education, occupation, whether or not they were accepted as a candidate, and other information like articles and news. After viewing the list of candidates, users were prompted to choose up to 3 candidates to vote for. They were also given the option to cast a blank vote before submitting their ballot.

The app was promoted through Viet Tan and other media outlets to encourage political expression in Vietnam by providing an actionable movement.

Regime Backlash

Hackers initiated a DDoS attack at the ISP level. With the server holding up to the DDoS attack, bothers were launched to spam the voting process. Within hours, the number of fake votes on the app for party candidates exceeded 700,000. Circumvention had been integrated into the app, which mitigated the threat of government blockage.

ANTV, the website of Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security, published an article claiming Viet Tan was trying to sabotage the government with the Lá Phiếu app. This recognition from the Ministry provided free PR for the app while also proving the app created an overacting impact from the regime.


After the election, "official" results showed that Communist Party candidates received nearly all the votes The results for those who voted using Lá Phiếu app showed that most independent candidates were voted for, particularly in Hà Nội and Sài Gòn.

The project was relatively successful with 3,025 votes for 173 out of 184 electoral districts. Some lessons learned were that developing a good app requires money and time, working with app developers requires patience and clear communication, and deploying the app requires extra planning and risk management against state-sponsored attacks. The public/movement tends to have limited attention span, therefore, capturing public attention is key.

Next Steps

Additional Notes