The Chinese government is using online content farms to create fake news to manipulate Taiwanese public opinion and polarize society, the Ministry of Justice’s Investigation Bureau said, citing a bureau analysis of several online articles that have stirred controversy in Taiwan.
The bureau has established a big-data and public opinion task force to monitor the spread of fake news on social media on instructions from the National Security Bureau, it said on Friday.
The probe found “unequivocal evidence” that Beijing was responsible for several fake news articles that aimed to manipulate Taiwanese public opinion, it said.
Photo: Chu Pei-hsiung, Taipei Times
For example, state-run China Central Television has aired footage of old military exercises to lend credence to a false report that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force conducted a live-fire exercise in waters off southwest China, it said.
National security agencies later confirmed that machine guns were fired during the exercise, but that Chinese media exaggerated the drill’s scope to cause panic in Taiwan, the Investigation Bureau said.
Chinese content farms have also on multiple occasions spread disinformation about cross-strait relations, it said.
Qiqi Kan Xinwen (琦琦看新聞), one of the Web sites running fake news articles, in May said that Taiwan’s indigenous submarine program was aimed at blockading Chinese ports, while coco02.net claimed that China “will reclaim Taiwan by 2020” to sow fear, the bureau added.
Dafeng Hao (大風號) has claimed that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is using national security as a pretext to block Chinese policies that are favorable toward Taiwan and that the party is “abetting” a referendum bid by independence advocates to change the nation’s name at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics from “Chinese Taipei,” the Investigation Bureau said.
It said it would facilitate the government’s public information campaigns to counter China’s influence operations by providing real-time intelligence to government agencies.
The bureau said it is a non-political and neutral agency whose mission is to protect domestic security and social order, and that it would enhance its capabilities to monitor and combat fake news, including prosecuting those who break the law by spreading fake news.
The National Security Bureau said its sources have confirmed that China and other hostile forces have been waging media and psychological warfare against Taiwan.
Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential elections and China’s meddling in Cambodia’s general election have raised concerns among security agencies worldwide, it said.
Democratic nations like the US, France, Germany and Japan have responded by passing laws to manage fake news that threaten national security, it added.
“China’s Internet brigade is clearly spreading fake news, and its activities will have an immense effect on Taiwan’s democratic system and elections,” National Taiwan University political science associate professor Chen Shih-min (陳世民) said.
An example of China-based fake news is a story about banana overproduction that was published in June, he said, adding that an image showing piles of the fruit was shared online and later turned out to be a stock photograph taken in 2007.
In another case, an article falsely claimed that Taiwanese bananas contained unsafe levels of pesticide residue, and used a picture that showed Premier William Lai (賴清德) and Legislative Speaker Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) handling bananas while wearing gloves, he said.
Lai and Su were in fact making banana spring rolls at a promotional event, Chen said.
“Fake news is created by taking images or words out of context. It is often created to serve an agenda, such as discrediting the government or stirring public discontent,” he said. “Many of the stories bear the Chinese government’s mark.”
However, the nation’s Internet ecosystem is in such a shape that China does not really need an Internet brigade to manipulate Taiwanese public opinion or to spread fake news, he said.
While the government clearly needs to take action against disinformation, the response has to be measured to ensure that the freedom of speech is protected, Chen said.
Transparency and public communication are probably more important in maintaining the government’s credibility, he said.
Taiwan Thinktank researcher Tung Li-wen (董立文) said that the government should be more proactive and make better use of available tools to counter fake news.
“The government cannot expect posting statements on official Web sites to fix the problem. Most of the public does not bother to look at official Web sites,” he said, adding that prosecutors should enforce laws against the malicious and deliberate spreading of disinformation.
In related news, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who doubles as DPP chairperson, yesterday accused China of spreading fake news to discredit DPP Taichung Mayor Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍), who is seeking re-election in the Nov. 24 nine-in-one elections.
“Lin’s opponent in the election is not the only party that is manipulating information. There is a lot of fake news from dubious sources and some of those are in China,” Tsai said at the opening ceremony for Lin’s campaign headquarters. “Disinformation damages the public’s trust in the government, polarizes society and intensifies partisanship in political elections.”
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Acting Deputy Director-General of Culture and Communications Tang Te-ming (唐德明) responded by saying: “The DPP and Chairperson Tsai are never wrong, it is always the KMT and the Chinese communists’ fault.”
Additional reporting by Aaron Tu and Su Chin-feng
‘GOOD SIGN’: Thanks to public efforts, the number of COVID-19 cases is on a downward trend, the minister of health said, but told people not to let their guard down The COVID-19 situation appears to be relatively stable and on a downward trend, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said yesterday, as he reported 185 domestic COVID-19 cases and 15 deaths. “This seems to be a relatively good sign,” Chen, who heads the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), told a daily news briefing. In Taipei and New Taipei City, the overall situation seems to be heading in a good direction, he added. He attributed it to public efforts to control the spread of the virus, but warned people against letting their guard down. Of the new local cases, 83 are males and
The EU is set to lift travel restrictions for US and Taiwanese residents as soon as this week, in the latest step toward a return to normal, despite concerns over the spread of potentially dangerous COVID-19 variants. Portugal, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, proposed adding Taiwan, the US, Albania, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Macau, the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Saudi Arabia and Serbia to a so-called “white list” of countries from which non-essential travel to the bloc is allowed, a diplomat familiar with the matter said. Assuming no objections, EU government envoys in Brussels would today approve the expanded
NO CONNECTION: Centers for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang said the CECC has linked no deaths so far to the AstraZeneca vaccine Eleven people in the nation have died after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday, but the deaths should not deter older people with chronic health conditions from getting vaccinated. Nine of the deaths — people aged 65 to 97 — took place three hours to one day after the AstraZeneca vaccine was given, the center said, while eight of the 11 deaths were people aged 75 or older, most of whom had chronic health conditions. On Wednesday, the center said that 12 more people — seven women and five men aged 42 to 97 at
NEW BATCH: The ‘Liberty Times’ has reported that 240,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are to arrive in Taiwan today, following the first 150,000 doses that arrived in May The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday reported 175 domestic cases of COVID-19 infection and 19 deaths. Of the local cases, 100 are male and 75 are female, with an onset of symptoms between June 3 and Wednesday, the center said. New Taipei City had the most local infections, with 87 cases, followed by Taipei with 34 cases, Miaoli County with 31, Hsinchu County with 10, Taoyuan with seven, and two each in Hualien County, Keelung and Taichung, it said. Of the 54 domestic cases reported outside Taipei and New Taipei City, 53 cases had known sources of infection, while one had an