Beijing has mobilized its army of online trolls and demagogues to create fake news and manipulate public views in Taiwan, according to a disclosure by investigators from the island’s Ministry of Justice.
The investigators found “unequivocal evidence” that China was behind a deluge of disinformation and planted fake news that either dug up dirt on the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DLP) or targeted President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan newspapers revealed.
In one instance, China’s state broadcaster China Central Television aired footage of military exercises held by the People’s Liberation Army years earlier in a bid to stir up panic in Taiwan. Another piece claiming that the PLA “will reclaim Taiwan by 2020” also went viral in Taiwan: investigators traced its source to a Beijing-based website operating under the Communist Party’s propaganda department.
A third report from China said that the DLP was “abetting” a referendum aimed at changing the nation’s name at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. There is no such plan.
The Justice Ministry has established a taskforce to combat the spread of disinformation and said it may prosecute anyone responsible.
“China’s internet brigade is clearly spreading fake news, and its activities will have an immense effect on Taiwan’s politics and elections,” the ministry warned.
A cybersecurity expert told the Taipei Times: “Fake news is created by taking images or words out of context. It is often created to serve an agenda, such as discrediting the government or stirring public discontent, and many of the stories bear the Chinese government’s hallmark of propaganda or brainwashing.”
But the expert cautioned that while the government needed to take action against disinformation, its response must also be measured to ensure that freedom of speech was always protected.