Probes into 18 complaints of rumormongering and misinformation relating to the nation’s COVID-19 cases found that 14 emanated from China, the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) said yesterday.
The 18 complaints from the public were received on Saturday, and many of the claims were sophisticated, featuring forged government statements, screen grabs of television news, images, edited pictures and the use of media outlets’ published reporting, said CIB officer Lee Chi-hsun (李奇勳), head of the Seventh Investigation Corps unit for cybersecurity and Internet crimes.
Chinese cyberwarfare has hit new levels, with proven fake news such as “President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) rushed to hospital for treatment after coming down with Wuhan virus,” “Taiwan Province’s virus outbreak is out of control, Taiwan’s armed forces has Taipei under military control and Tsai’s government is burning virus-infected people on the street,” the bureau said.
A newly registered YouTube channel carrying vice president-elect William Lai’s (賴清德) name in Chinese featured videos and messages about the virus situation that are not accurate, it said.
One message from a Chinese account said former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) died after contracting the Wuhan virus, while an earlier case centered on the dissemination of images purportedly showing a presidential decree ordering the National Security Bureau to take control of the nation’s Internet and telecommunication links due to the current situation, the bureau said.
To people who are not familiar with presidential decrees, the image at first glance looked real, prompting the Presidential Office to issue a statement urging the public “to be on high alert for absurd and sensationalized online messages, and these should not be believed or circulated on social media.”
The new cases “showed a well-organized approach, with new tools and more sophistication for coordinated attacks. In generating fake news and misinformation on specific targets, these suggested they were not the work of Chinese trolls or individual netizens, but indicated a deployment of China’s cyberarmy units,” Lee Chi-hsun said.
Identifying China as the origin of many of the faked news items and messages was done by checking the IP locations, the use of simplified characters, and the use of phrases and words that are not commonly used in Taiwan, he said.
Many of the senders pretended to be Taiwanese when they circulated the rumors and fake news stories, he said.
The Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau and the CIB have also questioned a number of Taiwanese about allegedly disseminating fake news and these people could face charges, the CIB said.
Conviction on such charges could bring a prison term of up to three years, it said.
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