Beijing has intensified its information warfare against Taiwan, as new user accounts originating in China are generating discussions by posting malign messages aimed at stirring up animosity and conflict among Taiwanese, an expert on China’s cyberwarfare efforts told a news conference in Taipei yesterday hosted by the Economic Democracy Union.
Chinese businesses have infiltrated Taiwan through companies registered in Hong Kong or other countries, and Beijing has used political propaganda and social media manipulation after every major election in Taiwan since 2018, including Saturday’s recall election in Kaohsiung, said Puma Shen (沈伯洋), an assistant professor at National Taipei University’s Graduate School of Criminology.
“China’s main objective is to subvert and destabilize our society, and it has infiltrated Taiwan’s leading social media sites to spread its disinformation campaign,” Shen said. “It spreads fake news and undermines legitimate public discourse, as Chinese netizens have done during protests in the US and in Taiwan, by inflaming hatred among groups to generate hostility and confrontation.”
He and his research team have found many new accounts on Facebook, Dcard (a social network site in Taiwan) and other social media that originated from China, or from Chinese accounts registered in other countries, determined based on their use of simplified Chinese characters and online links to friends and sites in China, he said.
“These Chinese accounts take advantage of Internet freedom in Taiwan and most other nations, but they target specific groups in Taiwan by inciting hatred and social division, and urging street protests against the government,” he said.
The three main ways China uses information warfare to infiltrate Taiwan are installing surveillance systems, collecting personal data and buying politicians, group leaders, YouTubers and other influencers, he said.
China has greatly stepped up surveillance around the world though made-in-China networking equipment and apps, including Taiwan, where several agencies and municipalities are using Hikvision street cameras, as such systems have surveillance and data collection functions, he said.
Chinese companies have bought their way into government procurement projects, legally and illegally, and operate online payment systems, e-commerce platforms and delivery services, which can gather massive amounts of personal data on customers, he said.
“The most insidious way is to take over or collaborate with Taiwanese firms that have government IT contracts, thereby gaining access to the personal data of Taiwanese in a day’s time, which can then be analyzed to target specific groups for propaganda and disinformation to create more conflict and social strife in Taiwan,” Shen said.
The Executive Yuan said Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) has directed the National Police Agency to investigate Shen’s claims. It also urged the public not to be incited by emotions and inflammatory talk on social media.
Additional reporting by Chen Yu-fu and Hsieh Chun-lin
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