Taiwan: The Frontline of the Disinformation Wars

Shaken by a recent viral falsehood, Taiwan’s online ecosystem is repairing its democratic defense mechanisms.

Taiwan: The Frontline of the Disinformation Wars
Credit: Pixabay

On September 5, when Typhoon Jebi throttled Japan and forced the evacuation of Osaka’s flooded Kansai International Airport, a separate storm of unsubstantiated social media rumors began brewing in Taiwan.

In a post on the Professional Technology Temple (PTT), an online Taiwanese forum similar to Reddit, a user claiming to be a Taiwanese citizen awaiting evacuation said he had been rescued by the Chinese government, which had sent 15 tour buses and invited Taiwanese nationals onboard.

The post was quickly picked up by Taiwan’s Chinese-language Apple Daily and Sanlih TV News. It was followed by a widely circulated September 6 report by China’s state-run Xinhua news agency, which said China had evacuated 32 Taiwanese citizens, citing the Chinese consulate in Osaka. Another September 6 report by China’s state-run Global Times, itself picked up by several Taiwanese news outlets, claimed that Taiwanese tourists boarding the buses were told they could only board if they identified themselves as Chinese.

Taken at face value, the deluge of news items collectively exhibited Taiwan’s failure to assist its citizens during a time of crisis, leaving them at the mercy of Chinese goodwill.

The problem: The rumors weren’t true. Government officials now believe they were the work of state-sponsored Chinese actors aiming to destabilize Taiwan.