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A healthier information environment in Taiwan

A healthier information environment in Taiwan

Toward a healthier information environment in Taiwan

Amnesty talks are focused on Taiwan’s information environment and dehumanization process.

  • By James Baron / Contributing journalist

What lessons can Taiwan draw from the disinformation campaigns surrounding the war in Ukraine and the lessons it has learned? Four speakers gave compelling insights on this and other questions at the Amnesty International Taiwan event held in Taipei Wednesday night.

One of the main points was the observation, that disinformation is not a state of affairs. It is part and parcel of an information ecosystem that we must fully understand before we can address this issue of invasive species.

T.H. says that it’s not about an information problem. It’s about an information environment that makes Taiwan a good place to exploit information manipulation. Schee ()Open Knowledge Taiwan’s representative,, is a community of think-tankers practitioners and digital enthusiasts, who work to incubate open initiatives.

Photo by Reuters

Schee explains that Taiwan is ripe for spreading propaganda and falsehoods. This is due in part to an older generation who relies on close circles of trust to get their information.

Schee says that understanding how they trust one another and communicating with their peers is key to creating a healthy environment. They may trust messages sent online by their spouses or husbands.

Jeff Hsu explains that there are several types of narratives that might work well with such groups. ()IORG is a civilian research group that aims to increase information literacy and counter authoritarianism. IORG has analyzed more than 267,000 texts on social media, statements made by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and CCP-aligned media from November last year to February. It has identified four main themes: US bad, Ukraine bad, Russia justified, and US untrustworthy.

Photo by James Baron

Hsu gives an example of how emotive tactics might be used to reach the target audience. He mentions a story from the third category, namely that Russia is the spurned husband and Ukraine is the unfaithful spouse.

This was the most popular message we found. [the messaging app]Line, say Hsu.

The fourth category, namely the inherent untrustworthiness and weakness of the US as an allies, lends itself to appealing to the emotions.

Photo by Reuters

The most popular narrative is “Today Ukraine, Tomorrow Taiwan”. ()Hsu says one. He says that the slogan was similar to one used by the US in August 2008, when they pulled out of Afghanistan.

LIMITS ON DATA SCRAPING

Hsu says that Hsu is trying to communicate to Taiwanese the fact that the Americans won’t come to their aid, even though they can’t fight against the Taliban.

Hsu believes that this idea was now applied to the Ukraine situation.

He said that it was almost the same. They claim the US isn’t sending troops on the ground and are just using Ukraine to pawn. Taiwan is following the same path.

Schee has identified similar trends. However, he believes that data alone can only tell us so much.

He says that Line and Facebook messenger are the most difficult to understand the problem. These two services are too big to be accessed by anyone. Four years ago, Line was listed on New York Stock Exchange. The number of messages per day was 9.3 billion. Imagine the scale of this problem.

If root-and-branch change is possible, it is important to have a better understanding of who and how they share what.

This chimes well with Liya Yus () perspective. According to the German-Chinese political scientist, more attention must be given to the self and not just information sources.

Yu says that we consider people in our In-group to be part of our Identity Group.

PROCESS OF DEHUMANIZATION

Those outside the group, on the other hand, are easier to dismiss or worse, dehumanized.

Yu says that we only assign secondary complex emotions people in our inner-group.

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We can negate such feelings for people from other groups, primarily by changing the language we use. This will remove their agency. Yu says this is evident in the reporting on Taiwan and Ukraine in Western media, even if it is well-intentioned.

[If]Yu states that people don’t have agency and it doesn’t matter what they think. Stories that Taiwan doesn’t have a self-identity serve to dehumanize Taiwanese and make them feel less human, unable to bring about meaningful political change.

Yu cites recent neuroscientists’ research, which she acknowledges can be controversial at time. Yu claims that dehumanization on the person involved in it, activates the prefrontal medial cortex, which is essential to mentalize and empathize.

This basically reduces other people to objects.

You can see me through an fMRI (functional magnet resonance imaging machine) and the way you see me is similar to Yu’s chair. This has implications for the brain, from opinions to political behavior.

This is how one can see that justification for atrocities is a natural step in the process.

FRONT AND CENTER

Aurora Chang addresses such atrocities ()This highlights the widespread use of terms like “so-called” ()CCP-friendly media sources

People who are familiar with pro-Beijing media know this, Chang says. Chang has worked as a researcher in Taiwan on disinformation and spoke in her capacity of an activist and organizer with Taiwan Stands with Ukraine.

Chang stated that they used it to talk about the Bucha massacre and to paint these atrocities by America as false flags or media smear campaigns.

Chang emphasizes that disinformation can take on more sinister forms and can be more difficult to combat. She referred to a recent forum where a Russia participant warned us about how dangerous it is to trust Western media blindly. Another presentation featured a slide titled Russians also victims. She urges people to pay attention to the voices and needs people who are suffering.

Chang says that balance and nuance are natural instincts. However, Chang believes not all narratives are worthy of airtime.

According to Chang, Taiwanese activists are trying to support Ukraine in a country so far away. It is important to highlight the voices of Ukrainians. It is important to be careful when you share something. Even if you don’t intend to, it is important to note the language used.

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