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News“Countering FIMI and Election Interference in Taiwan: Implications for...

“Countering FIMI and Election Interference in Taiwan: Implications for the EU”: report of an event at the European Parliament

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On April 16th, the “Countering FIMI and Election Interference in Taiwan: Implications for the EU” conference took place in the European Parliament. Members of the European Parliament expressed curiosity about how Taiwan deals with Chinese political interference and hoped to apply similar methods against potential influences in their domestic elections.

Organized by Members of the European Parliament Petras Auštrevičius (Renew Europe), Vladimír Bilčík (EPP), and Markéta Gregorová (Greens), the conference focused on strategies implemented by the Taiwanese government, think tanks, and NGOs against disinformation perpetrated by Beijing. Also present were Konstantinos Arvanitis (Left) and Reinhard Hans Bütikofer, a prominent member of the Greens who recently visited Taiwan.

The meeting commenced with opening statements by the MEPs: Petras Auštrevičius noted that we are currently living in an age of disinformation, warfare and terrorism, where a polarization between freedom and dictatorship or authoritarian regimes exists and will continue to exist, and the large-scale fake news campaign ongoing in Taiwan by the hand of the Chinese government could happen or might be happening in the EU as well in Russia.

Vladimír Bilčík highlighted how members of different parties were present at the event and that external interference is not a single-party issue but a threat to democracy. The goal of the event was to listen to how Taiwan is reacting to gain some inspiration, which was the same point brought up by Markéta Gregorová.

The first to speak in the seminar discussion part of the event was Min Hsuan Wu, co-founder and CEO of Doublethink Lab. The NGO has been active since 2019 and since 2020 has been actively monitoring both Chinese activity on the Taiwanese internet and the actual disinformation campaign. Hsuan Wu stated that Chinese interference is multifaceted, ranging from fake accounts based in countries like Cambodia and Myanmar that spread fake polling results or criticize the government, to hiring small influencers and media personalities based in Taiwan that spread videos representing unspecified electoral frauds during the Presidential elections. Of course, generative AI is also a tool used to spread fake news, and according to a survey conducted by Doublethink Lab, a consistent part of the KMT voters believe that the fake news is a plan by the DPP government to gain consensus.

To counter this trend, some actors of civil society are taking action. Chihhao Yu, Co-director of the Taiwan Information Environment Research Center (IORG), Billion Lee, Co-founder of Cofacts, and Hui-An Ho, head of International Affairs at the Taiwan FactCheck Center (TFC), are actively involved. The IORG is an NGO that aims to collect evidence of external manipulations in the Taiwanese public sphere and create an open data source, accessible to anyone, to create a more transparent political environment. Co-facts, founded in 2016, goes a step further and not only is it an AI-powered open platform that is accessible to anyone and can detect any potential disinformation powered by AI but also provides materials for anyone willing to learn more about the dangers of fake news. Chihhao Yu of IORG pointed out how hybrid warfare is ongoing against Taiwan by China, made not only of aerial incursions around the Taiwanese Areal Defense Identification Zone or cyberattacks, but also of incentives for locals in Taiwan to spread fake news, all aimed at creating skepticism among the population. Billion Lee of Cofacts showed that there are three main types of fake news being spread in Taiwan: misinformation on domestic issues, presumed money scandals involving Taiwanese politicians, and the aforementioned electoral frauds. According to Hui-An Ho of the TFC, the main narrative in Chinese propaganda is the fear of a potential war caused by the DPP government, and underscored how Beijing can count on local proxies, pundits, small media influencers, and such, and how TikTok has been the primary mean to spread such news.

As Wen-Bin Lui, a member of the research committee of the investigation bureau of the Ministry of Justice, took the floor, the point of view shifted from an NGO-centered perspective to a Government-centered one. Lui pondered how the “cognitive warfare” of Beijing has several tools at its disposal such as disinformation, the use of cartoons delivering stereotypes, commentaries bearing a distorted message, and fake accounts on social media. Lui commented that accounts pretending to be female are more likely to receive more attention when spreading fake news and that “local collaborators” on Taiwanese soil make for excellent sponsors and storytellers.

But then, would just dissenting against the current government be considered a potential security threat? That was the question that was posed by MEP Butikofer to the panellists but in particular to Lui, who replied that since there is a precise definition of fake news or of the process of misinformation, hence there is a line that can be drawn and it is indeed used to assess what constitutes what.

At the end of the meeting, the MEPs expressed their satisfaction with the information shared by the speakers as even if each instance of misinformation is unique, the foundations behind it are common, and the Members of the Parliament have been active and aware of possible interference by external actors and namely, according to the hosts, the risk of Russian interference (with the Belgian Prime Minister De Croo severe accusations to Russia). Therefore, the European Union could learn a lot from such defense mechanisms adopted not only by the Taiwanese Government but also by its civic society.

Last but not least, in his closing remarks Roy Chun Lee, Taiwan’s representative in the Union, emphasized that there is a model of disinformation on a global level and that it is the duty of democratic societies to recognize the weaknesses of our systems and overcome them.

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