Disinformation campaigns - current and future challenges in Taiwan

In the thread on the recent Wulai helicopter crash, I wrote that the murky details surrounding this case are open to various disinformation campaigns—especially perhaps since the 2020 elections are right around the corner.

Yet how might such disinformation campaigns work? What factors have shifted over the years, and what future challenges lie ahead?

Former Taipei Times editor and reporter J Michael Cole addresses these questions in a fascinating deep dive recently published at Sentinel Taiwan. Mixing in personal experience and broader analysis, this detailed article is apparently based on a keynote speech Cole delivered at the Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 Taiwan International Journalism Conference — “Disinformation: Time for Solutions” — held in Taiwan on December 27. It’s a great, if also sobering, read.




Thanks for adding this. It explains why I can’t get through to a lot of people I talk to that their information is utter nonsense. They are so pig-headedly confident in their ignorance because they’re getting the same crap from multiple venues.


Disinformation is all over the place and practiced by all sides. Consult multiple sources and have a powerful anti-propaganda filter installed.


Cat Thomas at Ketagalan Media has an overview of the Reporters Without Borders conference mentioned above, looking more generally at media practices in Taiwan and the need to strengthen them:

“It is useless to act on fake news after it has been distributed,” [Reporters Without Borders’ East Asia Director Cédric] Alviani said after the event. “If Taiwan wants to protect against disinformation, it has only one solution, which is to strengthen its journalism environment.”

Journalists, he said, must “have the proper resources and ability to be that filter between information and fake news.”


  1. social media — Facebook groups and fan pages (dozens and dozens have been identified), Line, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Weibo, WeChat, PTT Board, etc; also, trolls, bots, cyborgs, “sock puppets” to swarm targets, increase share volume, and interfere with algorithms; Facebook is a key battleground for these kinds of activities in Taiwan: it is the No. 1 social media platform in Taiwan, with a coverage rate of 88% — significantly higher than the average of 79% in other countries;

Even on this forum, beware in the sources people cite, beware their claims of knowledge and experience if you don’t know them personally, and be aware of other distraction tactics employed to funnel discussions in the direction of a specific narrative. Or away from one!

edit: yes @afterspivak , I thought it was obvious I was quoting it, thanks though. :wink:

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Just to be clear, @mups is quoting J Michael Cole in the post above.

Just to be clear! : D


This is one of the clearest politically inclined misinformation campaigns. They state that the young officer’s wife, widow of the youngest guy killed in the crash, will not receive pension. This is false. But there is a LINE chain message that will be passed around and reach mostly gullible elderly people, the ones who believe this and vote accordingly and will spread the misinformation further on. «Bad Tsai took away military pensions, she stole our money. Bad Tsai says she honors the dead but look at the facts!» Sigh.


Yes the amount of complete horse shit spread amongst elderly people in LINE groups has to be seen to be believed.

Is it the same everywhere or just really really bad in Taiwan ?

As Schwarzwald noted above, disinformation campaigns are prevalent all around the world, and have been for a very long time. But (and here’s the key point!), Cole argues that despite such apparent universalism, there are several specific conditions in Taiwan that make the PRC’s “sharp power” tactics quite distinct and potentially effective here.

The challenges will almost certainly intensify in the future with the development of AI and so-called “deep fakes” making disinformation harder and even more time consuming and distracting to debunk.


Let’s not forget that Cole has been active in pro DPP propaganda for many years. To claim that the PRC somehow has the edge when it comes to disinformation is disinformation. Compared to the CIA and other Western outfits the PRC is still a beginner when it comes to shaping public opinion and perception. British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge had this to say back in 1966 about Western disinformation, at a time the PRC was nowhere on the radar,
"In the eyes of posterity it will inevitably seem that, in safeguarding our freedom, we destroyed it. The vast clandestine apparatus we built up to prove our enemies’ resources and intentions only served in the end to confuse our own purposes; that practice of deceiving others for the good of the state led infallibly to our deceiving ourselves; and that vast army of clandestine personnel built up to execute these purposes were soon caught up in the web of their own sick fantasies, with disastrous consequences for them and us.-- Malcom Muggeridge, May 1966

It’s not 1966 anymore.

And Cole is entitled to his own opinions. He’s trained in counter-intelligence and actually knows something about these matters.


We all know how well that worked out in the last few decades, remember the “faulty intelligence” that gave us the Iraq war?

The US manipulation (or straight-up disregard) of its intelligence services does not change the fact that Cole is more than a propagandist.

In the Sentinel Taiwan piece linked above, Cole has this to say about his experience:

This author has been the target of such disinformation, with claims that he is paid by President Tsai, or a foreign agent working for the CIA or “Western intelligence.” Willful mistranslation of his work into Chinese, as was the case earlier this year with an article about Han Kuo-yu, the KMT candidate in the presidential elections, has also been a feature of this campaign. In that particular case, the intimidation and “fake news” came from KMT politicians, as well as anonymous Han supporters online, many of whom appeared to be Malaysian Chinese. The same disinformation was then recycled for months in the China Times, CtiTV, United Daily News, and a few web sites that have been identified as content farms — including Chinese ones, as well as traditional media there. This campaign even included people online changing or adding false information on the author’s Wikipedia page.


This is quite interesting as in fact Cole seems to agree.

Note this as well:

CCP disinformation is not only aimed at Taiwan but also at the Chinese people, who cannot be told that the CCP’s policy on Taiwan has been, for the most part, a complete failure. Given its nature, the CCP cannot admit failure; so it must deceive its people — hence all the talk about historical inevitability and the eventual “reunification” of China. I would add here that Xi Jinping and his small circle of advisers may also be lying to the hawks in the PLA about Taiwan, to avoid having to use force at a time when the leadership is not ready to do so.

In short, the people of Taiwan are not the only targets here.


Cole does not strike me as somebody who actually reads Chinese and has spent time in the PRC studying their system of government and politics. His comments sounds like the typical Western think-tanker. What are his credentials for being a “China expert”?

Once again just ad hominem comments about Cole. I get it that he’s not every one’s cup of tea but he’s been on the ground here in Taiwan for years thinking and writing and reporting in ways that few people have. Perhaps this means little to you. But I for one appreciate some people thinking through the current situation and presenting their views.

Post edited.


With his Canadian passport and his willingness to speak truth to power, he’d be detained if he “spent time” in the PRC.

The joys of geopolitics in 2020!


I agree with that. Like Good Book says, “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.”

Sounds familiar, and I’m not even thinking of Asia. :wink:

I was but, do continue.