According to Facebook statistics in 2018, about 97% of Internet users in Taiwan use Facebook. According to another market research organization, Taiwan’s smartphone penetration rate ranks second in Asia, second only to South Korea. According to these data, it is understandable that many activities to build momentum for tomorrow’s presidential election will move from the streets to the Internet.

However, the rise of online election campaigns requires voters to be able to distinguish the authenticity of information and to comply with the growing anti-fake news regulations, because politicians claim that a large amount of online election information is false, is illegally released, and is often determined by Taiwan’s politics. Rival China implanted.

“Since last year, we have seen that China is using modern technology, in short, social platforms, trying to hinder our discussions on the Internet through Facebook, Twitter, or the popular online chat software Line,” Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Wu Zhaoxie Speaking at a press conference on Thursday. “The situation with fake news seems pretty serious.”

Last year, Taiwanese officials passed a law prohibiting the spread of false news, and local media said that the police are already investigating several cases.

The rise of social media

Hou Zhengnan, a lecturer in mass communication at Yishou University in Taiwan, said that social media such as Facebook, Line and Twitter attract people under the age of 40 because these voters tend to trust the information posted by their friends. Hou Zhengnan said that they think newspapers and TV news are too “official” and are also vulnerable to “manipulation” by politicians.

The current President Tsai Ing-wen and her main competitor, Han Guoyu, actively promoted the campaign on Facebook throughout the day and broadcasted some of them live. As of January 3, Tsai Ing-wen has 2.6 million more Facebook followers than Han Yu.

Tsai Ing-wen also cooperated with a YouTube celebrity, interacting with the celebrity’s good at touch-ups, effectively refreshing her image before the election.

“Internet stars are an important point. They can let people understand the other side (of politicians),” Hou Zhengnan said. “More importantly, they make people feel that an authority is close to them, not so high.”

“Fake news” floods

Chen Zhiwei, deputy director of the DPP’s International Affairs Department, said at a press conference on Tuesday that the so-called “fake news” comes from more than 1,000 “locations” in China every day. A study by the Center for Diversity and Democracy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden shows that among the more than 200 places surveyed in the world, Taiwan is one of the most vulnerable to cyber attacks.

China regards Taiwan as part of its territory and has no right to elect a president. Since the civil war in China in the 1940s, the two sides of the strait have been in a state of division.

Taiwanese officials believe that China is trying to guide voters to support candidates that Beijing likes. Since taking office in 2016, the current leader Tsai Ing-wen has been criticizing China’s “One China Policy.” Her main opponent, Hanguo Yu, advocated cross-strait dialogue.

Wu Yijing, a 28-year-old PhD student in Taiwan, said that older voters who are new to social media have a particularly hard time getting the truth out of lies. His parents are both 64 years old and have just ventured into social media. He said: “The younger generation started to join social media about ten years ago, while the older generation, taking my parents as an example, only started using Line four years ago.”

Correction and severe punishment

Foreign Minister Wu Zhaoxie said that officials tried to refute as much fake news as possible. He said that they also worked with Line and Facebook to block fake accounts and delete fake messages, and sometimes consult local non-profit fact-checking agencies.

The legislature tightened two criminal laws in April to prohibit the spread of false news, including the reposting of false content. On December 31, the Legislative Yuan passed the “Reverse Osmosis Law,” making it a criminal offence for foreign forces to influence Taiwan’s elections.

According to local media reports, the police detained a political science professor at National Taiwan University last month because he criticized the government-run National Palace Museum in a Facebook post in 2018. According to a report on the PinkNews.com website, some people are still posting false information on Line, claiming that Tsai Ing-wen spent $1 million to organize a gay pride parade in Taipei.

“As the general election approaches, this problem has become quite obvious,” said Huang Kuibo, associate dean of the School of International Affairs at Taipei National Chengchi University. “Police investigations may now violate people’s right to express opinions. The power to suppress freedom of speech is growing.”

But Shelley Rigger, a visiting scholar at the National Taiwan University School of Social Sciences, said fake news may have little effect on people’s voting decisions. Most young people are “skeptical” about what they read, and Taiwanese in general have long known that “the People’s Republic of China is trying to undermine their democracy.”

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