Taiwan has since late February detected increased disinformation activity about the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 70 percent of the cases originating in China, the Ministry of Justice’s Investigation Bureau (MJIB) said in a briefing.
The rise in disinformation was likely sparked by Chinese Internet users who were displeased by Taiwanese criticism of how China has managed its outbreak, MJIB official Chang Yu-jen (張尤仁) said at a briefing late last month.
Of the 271 cases of fake news being investigated by the bureau, 196 originated in China, Chang said, adding that 35 suspects have been handed over to prosecutors.
Chinese netizens craft messages that cater to a Taiwanese audience, coordinate how the messages are to be spread and use fake accounts to post them on the pages of Taiwanese Facebook groups, Chang said.
One widely used template is a short paragraph, such as the one that said: “My father is a city councilor, and he was told by another city councilor that Taiwan actually has more than 500 COVID-19 cases and 200 related deaths,” Chang added.
Parts of the template are switched out, such as changing the city councilor from a father to an aunt or changing the government official acting as the source of the information, he said, adding that in all of the cases, the purpose is the same: to sow mistrust and panic.
Other fake news posts included images from Taiwanese news channels that had been doctored, as well as fake government announcements, Chang said.
Local Chinese-language media have reported on Facebook and Twitter accounts that are all called Sun Xiaochuan (孫笑川), after a Chinese social media personality.
One Facebook account posted a poorly photoshopped image of a fire in front of the Presidential Office Building, with a caption that read: “The military has taken control of Taipei. [President] Tsai’s [Ing-wen (蔡英文)] administration is burning people who have contracted the disease.”
Another account created a fake Taipei City Government announcement, which claimed that Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) had canceled the rest of his plans that day because he showed COVID-19 symptoms.
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