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Researchers say WeChat pages share false news

LEFT BEHIND:Accounts operated by government agencies often portray Taiwan as ‘less developed than China,’ in line with official policy, they said

Staff writer

A WeChat icon is displayed on a smartphone screen on Dec. 5, 2013.

Photo: Reuters

Public accounts on Chinese social networking app WeChat disseminate false news about Taiwan, especially through articles aimed at creating a false image of public frustration with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, a National Sun Yat-sen University research team said.

Institute of Political Science associate professor Titus Chen (陳至潔) and his team analyzed 41,500 articles shared by the 40 most-subscribed public accounts on WeChat from November last year to January, German international public broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported on its Web site on Wednesday last week.

The results suggested that not all news articles shared by the accounts were disingenuous, but they did spread fake news, Chen was quoted as saying

Calling the accounts Chinese Communist Party propaganda tools, he said that they sought to impart a sense that Taiwanese want to be closer to China.

Much of the false news was about public criticism of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and her government, most of it “edited” from comments by pundits on Taiwanese political talk shows, the research showed.

False news reports about public antipathy toward the DPP are likely meant to instill a belief in Chinese that most Taiwanese oppose the DPP and support unification with China, and while the disinformation might not have an immediate effect on the lives of Taiwanese, the threat it poses should not be overlooked, Chen said.

Public accounts are operated by government agencies, private groups or commercial organizations, with the first two types often seeking to impart a sense that “Taiwan is less developed than China,” in line with policy from Beijing, the researchers said.

Accounts operated by commercial organizations use more sensationalist content in an attempt to show that most Taiwanese are opposed to independence and want more exchanges with China — likely with the aim to stoke patriotism among Chinese, they said.

These tactics of the Chinese government are not conducive to exchanges across the Taiwan Strait, as they border on deceiving Chinese into believing that Taiwanese are ready to unify with China, or at least approve of the scenario, they said.

The government should monitor WeChat and Sina Weibo accounts so that it can clarify reports and debunk fake news, Chen said.

Such efforts would give people on both sides of the Strait a better understanding of the situation in Taiwan, while alerting Taiwanese to the harm the Chinese government is causing, he said.

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