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Report Exposes China-Linked Disinformation Targeting Taiwan’s Presidential Election and COVID-19 Response

August 25, 2020

NEW YORK, Aug 25, 2020 – Graphika, Institute for The Future’s Digital Intelligence Lab and The International Republican Institute issued a joint report revealing the tactics and strategy behind an information operation directed at Taiwanese democratic processes. The report, Detecting Digital Fingerprints: Tracing Chinese Disinformation in Taiwan, uncovered a series of campaigns by CCP-linked and domestic actors targeting Taiwan’s 2020 presidential election and its response to COVID-19 with narratives crafted to advance Beijing-strategic interests. Key findings include the discovery of new campaign tactics such as the use of Malaysian content farms, coordinated cross-platform campaigns and attempts to instigate U.S. participation. 


“The Taiwanese presidential election was a seminal moment for Beijing’s strategic political interests,” said Melanie Smith, Head of Analysis, Graphika. “However, the emergence of information operations around COVID-19 makes it abundantly clear that disinformation in Taiwan is a persistent threat, not limited to election cycles.” 

The report also indicates resilience to disinformation in Taiwanese society and political culture. “Taiwan is a model of successful mobilization against false information through its use of innovative civil society groups, as well as strong and consistent communication between government and the tech industry,” said Nick Monaco, Director of the Digital Intelligence Lab at Institute for the Future.

“The Chinese disinformation apparatus is evolving, and we are learning more about how its use is strategic to geopolitical priorities,” said Amy Studdart, Senior Advisor for Digital Democracy at the International Republican Institute. “This report should provide a model by which other nations can understand the threat of disinformation on their democratic processes.”

Key Findings 

2020 Presidential Elections

  • Disinformation frequently targeted the voting process and Taiwan’s Central Election Commission (CEC) prior to the election, some of which alleged CIA intervention to manipulate results. 

  • A Malaysian content farm emerged promoting pro-CCP narratives. Stories displayed links to mainland China through vocabulary choices, similarities with content attributed to Chinese government information operations and content copied from state-owned media outlets.

  • Disinformation was distributed across social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Line, PTT, Twitter and YouTube, with dozens of domains impacted.

  • The volume of disinformation increased after the election. A network of domestic Taiwanese accounts drove a cross-platform campaign to question the validity of Tsai Ing-wen’s PhD post-election, generating two petitions to demand U.S. government investigations.

COVID-19

  • Disinformation related to COVID-19 was used to discredit Taiwan’s government and had links to mainland China. Accounts revealed their Chinese origin due to overlap with previous Chinese netizen-led disinformation campaigns targeting Taiwan and a poor grasp of linguistic differences between Taiwanese and Chinese Mandarin.

  • A coronavirus disinformation campaign propagated by Chinese accounts targeted Taiwan, as well as the international community, with false information. 

  • The same network of Malaysian content farms originally disseminating presidential election disinformation pivoted to promote several false stories alleging that COVID-19 originated in the U.S.

The report was developed using a blend of qualitative and quantitative analysis, including 17 interviews with Taiwan disinformation experts, from journalists and academics, to government officials and technologists, and analysis of social data from September 2019 through April 2020. 

Read the full report here

Read the executive summary here

ABOUT GRAPHIKA

Graphika is the network analysis firm that empowers Fortune 500s, Silicon Valley, human rights organizations and universities to navigate the cybersocial terrain. With rigorous methodology, Graphika maps the formation of communities and the flow of influence and information within large-scale social networks. Organizations rely on Graphika to analyze the global disinformation landscape, protect against coordinated and inauthentic online activity, and understand how to effectively reach audiences through social marketing channels. Founded in 2013 by John Kelly, Ph.D., a pioneer in the field of network analysis, Graphika is a trusted source for governing bodies around the globe and social platforms on matters of foreign information operations, and disinformation and misinformation around events with worldwide impact such as COVID-19 and global election interference. For more, visit graphika.com and @Graphika_NYC.

ABOUT INSTITUTE FOR THE FUTURE’S THE DIGITAL INTELLIGENCE LAB

Institute for the Future’s Digital Intelligence Lab (DigIntel) is a social scientific research entity conducting work on the most pressing issues at the intersection of technology and society. They examine how new technologies and media can be used to both benefit and challenge democratic communication. Institute for the Future (IFTF) is the world’s leading futures organization. For over 50 years, businesses, governments, and social impact organizations have depended upon IFTF global forecasts, custom research, and foresight training to navigate complex change and develop world-ready strategies. IFTF methodologies and toolsets yield coherent views of transformative possibilities across all sectors that together support a more sustainable future. Institute for the Future is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Palo Alto, California. For more, visit iftf.org and follow us on Twitter @iftf.

ABOUT THE INTERNATIONAL REPUBLICAN INSTITUTE

A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, the International Republican Institute (IRI) advances freedom and democracy worldwide by helping political parties to become more responsive, strengthening transparent and accountable governance, and working to increase the role of marginalized groups in the political process – including women and youth. More information is available at www.iri.org.

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