A “new wave of disinformation” is heading across the Strait before the presidential election in January as Taiwan tries to combat China’s ever-shifting and increasingly subtle disinformation tactics, the New York Times reported.
Boasting “a resilience to foreign meddling that could serve as a model to the dozens of other democracies holding votes in 2024,” Taiwan “is ready for the disinformation onslaught” from China, the report said.
Taiwan has “one of the world’s most mature” communities of fact-checkers, government investments, international media literacy partnerships and a public sense of skepticism, it said.
Photo: I-Hwa Cheng, Bloomberg
“The challenge now is sustaining the effort,” it quoted Minister of Digital Affairs Audrey Tang (唐鳳) as saying.
Tang added that Taiwan now needs to “stay agile.”
Beijing’s efforts, such as criticizing Taiwan’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and launching cyberattacks when then-US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last year, “has struggled to sway public opinion,” it said.
Operations including the Taiwan FactCheck Center, Fake News Cleaner, Cofacts, Doublethink Lab and MyGoPen are providing fact-checking to help citizens ward off Beijing’s disinformation campaign, it said.
Many Taiwanese have developed internal “warning bells” for suspicious narratives, Fake News Cleaner cofounder Melody Hsieh (謝呈釀) said.
However, some fact-checkers and watchdog groups warned against “public apathy” towards fact-checking, the resources of which were not widely used in past elections, it said.
In addition, posts originating from China “appear increasingly subtle and organic, rather than flooding the zone with obvious pro-Beijing messages.”
Content farms under Beijing’s control might create false information, which would then be spread by agents, bots or unwitting social media users, it said.
Other tactics used by Beijing include buying established Taiwanese social media accounts and paying Taiwanese influencers to promote pro-China narratives, the report cited research from the RAND Corp as saying.
The Chinese disinformation campaign also shifted its focus from the relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to Taiwan’s domestic issues to provoke social division, such as “spreading lies about local services and health issues,” it said.
In comparison to the last presidential election in 2020, Beijing is “no longer distracted by pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong” and can take better advantage of artificial intelligence, such as creating deep fake videos or images, it said.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) previously said that cracking down on disinformation is one of the “most difficult challenges for democracies” and requires “a whole-of-society effort.”
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