Google holding company Alphabet Inc last week donated US$1 million to the Taiwan FactCheck Center (TFC) to help fund the center’s media literacy initiatives.
The money would be disbursed over the next three years under Google’s Intelligent Taiwan initiative to help combat disinformation campaigns, the company said on Thursday.
The funding would help finance about 700 trainers and 600 workshops, which would benefit 23,000 people, including older Taiwanese, people living in remote areas, Aboriginal communities and newly naturalized citizens, the firm said.
Google has identified these groups as highly vulnerable to disinformation in the digital age, it said.
The center would collaborate with groups such as the National Association for the Promotion of Community Universities, Fakenewscleaner, Taiwan Media Watch, the Association of Quality Journalism and National Chengchi University’s Center for Media Literacy in Taiwan as part of its objective of reaching diverse communities.
TFC chairman Hu Yuan-hui (胡元輝) said media literacy has never been more important, as COVID-19-related disinformation has been widespread in Taiwan for almost two years.
“It’s not just a single initiative about fact-checking. It’s a social movement about participation in and anticipation of democracy,” Hu said.
The center, jointly founded by the Association for Quality Journalism and Taiwan Media Watch, is a nonprofit organization that aims to fact-check publicly available information, improve the country’s information ecosystem and boost the quality of news, the center says on its Web site.
Disinformation about COVID-19 gained widespread attention in Taiwan after a domestic outbreak in May.
At the time, unverified stories started circulating on social media, including a false claim that a hospital had disposed of the corpses of people who had died from the virus in a river because the local morgue was at full capacity.
Another article falsely claimed that more than 20,000 people who had died from COVID-19 had been cremated in Taipei and even that some COVID-19 patients had been burned alive in the mass cremation.
Experts have described the sustained levels of COVID-19 disinformation as a “concerted offensive” and a “pressure test by the Chinese Communist Party against Taiwan.”
Google Taiwan senior manager for public and government affairs Anita Chen (陳幼臻) said a Google survey showed that more than 80 percent of Taiwanese had received misinformation.
However, less than 10 percent of respondents in the study had participated in any kind of media literacy program — despite 90 percent agreeing that the issue was important, she said.
Google has also come under scrutiny over the issue, with critics saying that it has not done enough to rein in the spread of misinformation on its products.
In March, Google chief executive officer Sundar Pichai appeared before a US congressional hearing about the issue, amid discussion in Washington on whether tech companies should be held accountable for misinformation on their platforms.
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