Fri, Oct 19, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Media literacy key in fake news battle

CRITICAL THINKING:While fake news is a threat, it is also an opportunity to build a society based on a better informed and more educated citizenry, Joseph Wu said

By Sean Lin  /  Staff reporter

Officials and foreign dignitaries at a workshop in Taipei yesterday underlined the importance of combating disinformation by improving media literacy, a task they said is best achieved through collaborations between the public and private sectors on cultivating a citizenry and civic society that engage in critical thinking and consciously fact-checks information.

The workshop — held as part of the Global Cooperation and Training Framework established by Taipei and Washington — was organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD).

The event was attended by US Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby, AIT Director Brent Christenson, Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), Minister Without Portfolio Audrey Tang (唐鳳), Legislative Speaker Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全), who is also the chairman of the TFD, and representatives from 12 other nations.

Speaking at the workshop’s opening ceremony at the TFD’s office, Wu said that while disinformation disseminated by non-democratic actors to sow discord in society poses a threat to democracies worldwide, it also presents an opportunity for them to build a society based on a better informed and more educated citizenry.

Taiwan is constantly suffering from “coordinated attacks” of disinformation, whether they originate domestically or externally, Wu said.

While some have suggested that government efforts to combat disinformation are aimed at fending off tough questions, Wu said that the two issues are fundamentally different.

“Criticism of the government can take many shapes and forms, and it is our job — as an administration rooted in our fight for democracy — to ensure that this freedom is not only respected, but also enshrined as part of our society, but when this criticism is based on fake information and falsehoods, when it is based on unsourced and anonymous material, and when it comes coordinated from foreign actors that hold a vested interest in degrading our political system, that is when it becomes our responsibility to counter it,” Wu said.

As an example of externally generated disinformation, Wu said that there had been widespread media reports about a foreign minister of one of the nation’s diplomatic allies visiting Beijing and being about to shift diplomatic recognition, adding that the news worried the ministry, which immediately contacted the its ambassador to the country in question.

Within a few hours, the “news” had been disproved, Wu said, after the ambassador sent back a photograph of himself and the foreign minister of the diplomatic ally taken in the capital of that country.

“As it turned out, this rumor originated from a social media account based in China’s Hebei Province,” he said.

While the Executive Yuan has set up a Web page for real-time clarification of fake or misleading news, the advent of new technology has often meant the spread of disinformation is faster than the government can clarify it, which is why efforts by civic society are required when countering disinformation, he said.

“While China might pay netizens 50 cents to post fake information, it costs us much more than that to rebut it,” he said.

Organizations like the non-profit Taiwan FactCheck Center are working to verify news and information collected online and via social media, Wu said, but in the long term, the economics of disinformation dictate a need for a better approach, one that must be centered not on the government, but the very people that produce and consume information: journalists, academia and all citizens.

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