China floods Taiwan with disinformation

Taiwan is in China’s sights, not only militarily, but also with false information (Xinmei Liu/The Economist)

In July, one of the main newspapers in Taiwan, United Daily News, published a news story based on alleged leaked minutes of a secret government meeting. According to the report, USA had asked Taiwan that manufactured biological weapons in a laboratory Island Ministry of Defense. Taiwanese and American officials were quick to deny it. The supposedly leaked minutes were not written in the usual style of Taiwanese government documents. They were full of official phrases used in China continental, but not in Taiwan. This was probably Chinese disinformation, according to Taiwanese officials. However, the story spread to Taiwanese talk shows and influencers. Within a few weeks it had become a wilder statement: Taiwan He was going to collect 150,000 Taiwanese blood samples and give them to the Americans so they could develop a virus that would kill the Chinese.

This type of misinformation is so widespread in Taiwan that analysts have given him a nickname: yi mei monor the narrative of “american skepticism”. Its diffusion is becoming a great concern for the government and civil society of Taiwan on the eve of an enormously important presidential election next January. Taiwanese voters will have to decide whether Taiwan must remain aligned with USA to reinforce deterrence against a possible Chinese invasion, or if it should strengthen ties with China. He Kuomintangin the opposition, has described the vote as a choice between “the war and the peace”, implying that the hostility of the Democratic Progressive Partyin power, towards China will provoke his attack. Chinese state agents have supported this approach, disseminating messages depicting USAand not to China, as the greatest threat to the island. Much of the misinformation seeks to reinforce that false message.

Lo Ping-chena cabinet minister who has led a government task force against disinformation since 2018, says it has “seriously infiltrated” in Taiwanese society. “We used to think there were more during election season. But now it has become normal. It happens every day”. Most Taiwanese voters have little idea of ​​this. A recent survey of Doublethink Laba Taiwanese group that studies misinformation, revealed that less than 20% of respondents believed that false information spread on Taiwan during the elections it came from abroad. Puma Shenwho drives Doublethink Lab, worries about the fifth of voters who are not aligned with any party and could be a decisive bloc. “Even if only 15% of voters were actually affected by Chinese disinformation, 7% of voters would be enough to change the election results“, it states.

A recent study of Information Environment Research Center (IORG), a Taiwanese research group, on the narratives of skepticism towards us, found that Chinese actors helped spread most of them. But more than half appeared to be of Taiwanese origin. According to Chihhao Yuauthor of the report, this suggests that China is “taking advantage” of the fissures in Taiwanese society. It suggests that many Taiwanese have a “orphan mentality”: they fear abandonment by outsiders due to the experience of Taiwan of losing American diplomatic recognition in the 1970s.

Chinese actors are exploiting those fears, just as Russian disinformation exploited racial and cultural fault lines in USA in benefit of donald trump in 2016. Chinese disinformation in Taiwan It also echoes Russian propaganda about the war in Ukrainewhich states that USA is behind the conflict (and is creating biological weapons in Ukrainian laboratories).

China has developed systematic means to make falsehoods trend in Taiwansays Chien Yu-yenformer journalist and author of a book on Chinese influence in the media of Taiwan. Point out the false claim that USA “he wants to fly” TSMC, a Taiwanese chip maker. It originated with a misleading video posted on Douyinthe Chinese version of TikTok, in which an American legislator appeared discussing that possibility. The next morning, a Taiwanese newspaper published an article about the video. Opposition legislators and talk show hosts provoked outrage. “The journey from Chinese Douyin to Taiwanese media, videos, newspapers and television took less than half a day“, it states Chien. The Chinese state media amplified the story, as if they were limited to commenting on a Taiwanese debate from the outside.

Taiwanese authorities believe that many of the Taiwanese who spew falsehoods about our skepticism are “local collaborators” who receive orders and payments from China. But this is difficult to prove, because the suspicious Chinese financing is probably channeled through Taiwanese businessmen or public relations firms. Wang Kun-yia local commentator who frequently writes articles on american skepticism for Chinese media and pro-Chinese Taiwanese media, he defends his work as a commercial company. All journalists from Taiwan They are at the service of the bosses of their newspapers, he says Wang, who has worked for both pro-independence and pro-unification newspapers. “Everyone treats it like a job“, it states. “It is a tool to feed”.

Taiwan It has laws against foreign infiltration and electoral influence, but they are limited to cases of proven state-sponsored activity. It has additional laws against the spread of intentional falsehood in broadcast media, but they do not cover print or digital media. In 2020, the government revoked the license of CTI Newsa pro-Chinese channel, alleging repeated failures to verify information. CTI it just moved to the Internet.

The case sparked accusations of censorship, which Taiwan want to avoid. So the government has turned to more liberal methods to fight misinformation. It has attempted to improve media literacy, provide faster official clarifications, and promote fact-checking organizations. But these media cannot match the speed of Chinese propaganda. In August, Goal eliminated a network of more than 7,000 accounts, pages and groups that spread Chinese disinformation. But it’s easy to create new accounts, a problem that will only accelerate with artificial intelligence, he says. It.

Chinese disinformation has already distorted public conversation in Taiwan. Will it move votes? Goal has noted that the Chinese disinformation network it eliminated was from “high volume and low reach”, despite having a veneer of compromise designed to make the accounts appear more popular than they were. Studies on Russian disinformation in USA have shown that it has little impact on voter preferences. Despite all the messages in the Chinese and Taiwanese media against the Democratic Progressive Partyyour candidate, William Lai, leads the polls. And despite all the skepticism about USATaiwanese are even more cautious about China. A survey conducted in 2022 by the Academia Sinicaa Taiwanese research institution, revealed that 34% of respondents agreed that USA It is a “credible” country. Only 9% said the same China.

The fault is China. It has recently surrounded Taiwan with warplanes and warships, even while their ruler Communist Party It unveiled an integration plan that promised benefits to Taiwanese living in Fujian, a southern province near the island. Most Taiwanese know where their real threat comes from. But China’s insidious efforts to mislead them are increasing..

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