China is on the verge of shifting to more modern influence campaign methods, such as using machine learning, an academic said this week.
Beijing could be using Chinese sympathizers in Taiwan not to conduct traditional influence campaigns, but to feed information into machine learning software to create programs more adept at creating misinformation, said Tzeng Yi-suo (曾怡碩), an assistant research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research.
This could be the future of propaganda campaigns, Tzeng said.
Influence operations are not limited to shaping the perception of people in another country, but also seek to affect their actions, such as with the alleged Russian manipulation of the 2016 US election, he said.
China’s influence operations, such as its “united front” tactics, are not effective, Tzeng said, citing Chinese efforts against Taiwan and Hong Kong.
After attempts in Hong Kong to vilify pro-democracy advocates in the media and use psychological warfare against them, Beijing resorted to legal battles against participants in the 2014 “Umbrella movement” and last year’s pro-democracy protests, and it ultimately had to assert its dominance over the territory through the passage of Hong Kong’s National Security Law, Tzeng said.
“That Beijing could not assert dominance over Hong Kong, which shares a land border with China, only serves to highlight the failure of its influence campaign against Taiwan,” he said.
China’s greatest weakness in its “united front” rhetoric against Taiwan is that it fails to understand the essence of a democratic system and government, Tzeng said.
In addition to its ignorance of democracy, Beijing has demonstrated its inability to predict how supporters of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) would react to “united front” rhetoric, he said.
Since President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) re-election earlier this year, Beijing has been stepping up its influence operations against Taiwan, Tzeng said.
By using machine learning to create misinformation, Beijing could prevent those friendly to China in Taiwan from having their credibility undermined, he said.
Tracing the source of such misinformation would be difficult and so Taiwanese must first focus on prevention, cutting off potential sources seeking to influence Taiwan, he said.
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