Fri, Jun 28, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Getting data to stop false news reports spreading

By Martin Oei 黃世澤

A Facebook account under the name Lee Chieh (李杰) was used to spread a rumor that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) donated NT$1 billion (US$32.2 million) to the Hong Kong movement against a proposed extradition bill that wold allow extradition to China. This nonsense is meant to tarnish Taiwan’s reputation and that of Hong Kong residents.

Following a request from the Tsai administration, Facebook closed the account and provided the Internet protocol (IP) address associated with it.

The Criminal Investigation Bureau said it suspected that “Lee Chieh” is “Lee Jung-kui” (李榮貴), who last year used Facebook to allegedly spread lies about then-Democratic Progressive Party Kaohsiung mayoral candidate Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁).

This “stepping-stone” IP address is likely to have been used through a virtual private network (VPN). Facebook’s policies for creating accounts are questionable. Why does it allow people to use VPNs to do so?

George Chen (陳澍) — Facebook’s head of public policy for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mongolia — has a suspicious background. While the anti-extradition protests have been going on, many Hong Kong Facebook users have been belatedly punished, such as by having their accounts blocked for having used a derogatory term for Chinese people years earlier.

The government should tell Facebook that suspicious people should not be allowed to manage Facebook business related to Taiwan and Hong Kong, regardless of whether they are senior managers or staff responsible for checking accounts, otherwise strange things like this are likely to keep happening.

As things stand, Facebook’s verification system does not inspire confidence.

The stepping-stone IP address was traced to Singapore, where parliament last month passed legislation to counter false news reports and fake accounts.

Taipei should consider formally asking for action to be taken based on this new law.

As well as giving the Singaporean government sufficient grounds to ban these miscreants, who might also be a threat to Singapore’s national security, it would also show respect for Singapore’s national sovereignty.

Experience suggests that the IP address might be hosted by a company such as DigitalOcean or Godaddy. It would be a handy way for China’s 50 Cent Army of paid pro-government Internet users to set up servers to spread rumors from outside the country’s “great firewall.”

Credit card payment details could provide valuable clues, so if the Singaporean government is willing to order the companies to provide information about the server’s owners, it would help unearth information about the 50 Cent Army mercenaries.

A worse possibility is that the IP address used to cross the “great firewall” is owned by the Singapore branch of a Chinese service provider such as Tencent Cloud or Alibaba Cloud.

If so, Taiwan should consider blocking IP addresses hosted by Tencent, Alibaba and China Telecom from accessing key platforms in the nation, such as the Professional Technology Temple bulletin board.

The server that I manage blocks all Chinese IP addresses and Chinese-owned servers that are suspected of being stepping-stone IP addresses. As well as helping to stop the spread of false news reports, this greatly reduces the possibility of Chinese servers launching distributed denial-of-service attacks on key systems.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures when it comes to a country such as China, which abuses Internet technology with no regard for international norms.

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