China’s Troll Farms Spread Disinformation to Interfere With Taiwan

November 4, 2020 Updated: November 5, 2020

Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee on Oct. 29 invited the head of the National Security Bureau to give a report on the island nation’s security at the Legislative Yuan. Legislator Chen Baiwei highlighted the interference from the Chinese regime’s disinformation campaign through troll farms in Taiwan and the national security agency confirmed such threats.

Beijing claims the self-ruled island as part of its territory, although Taiwan has its own military, democratically elected government, and currency.

Chen said that according to recent reports released by the security agency, the Chinese regime’s troll farms have been spreading disinformation in Taiwan regarding important domestic and international issues such as the pandemic. Beijing has also interfered with Taiwan’s 2020 elections by spreading false information that the ink on the ballots would smear when folded and thus become invalid votes.

Chiu Kuo-cheng, the director-general of the National Security Bureau, confirmed that the fake news propagated by China’s state-run media get 10 billion views online.

After China’s internet trolls released the conspiracy theory of the U.S. military spreading the coronavirus during the Wuhan Military Games, the regime created other false narratives—the virus came from a U.S. laboratory and it was a bioweapon created by the United States. The fake news was also re-posted by Beijing’s official media Xinhua News Agency. Chen said Taiwan was affected by the Chinese regime’s disinformation campaign because its conspiracy theories were also spread through Taiwanese media and well-known political commentators who parroted the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s narrative.

Chiu said that the CCP’s disinformation campaign has already infiltrated Taiwanese media and caused confusion in society.

Chen stated that the CCP’s disinformation campaign against Taiwan is essentially a “cognitive warfare.” The purpose is to convince the Taiwanese people into accepting unification with the mainland, thereby undermining Taiwan’s national identity. According to Chen, there are four modes of attack: 1) the “big foreign propaganda model” uses official channels to spread false information; 2) the “pink model” involves internet trolls using fake accounts to spread disinformation; 3) the “content farm model” involves concocting lies; and 4) the “cooperative model” uses certain politicians in Taiwan to speak in accordance with Beijing’s narrative and toe the Party line.

Chen took the Chinese content farm “Qiqi News” as an example. At the end of September, it published an article called “Retired Taiwanese Army Veterans Talking about Service Experience,” in which it stated, “If there is a war between the two sides of the Strait, I would tell my son to kill his commanding officer with a single shot.” Chinese state-run media Global Times reported it within an hour. And within 12 hours, Taiwanese media Dongsen and United Daily News also reposted the content from Global Times.

Although most of the reprinted articles in Taiwanese media are soft news and entertainment, they can still have a major impact on Taiwan’s society and national security, he said.

Chen pointed out that the suicide of Taiwanese diplomat Su Ci-cheng in Japan in 2018 prompted Taiwan’s civil organizations, which he referred to as “cyber volunteer troops,” to put more emphasis on disinformation and intelligence warfare research. Su was smeared by China’s state-run media that claimed that Taipei failed to help its citizens when Typhoon Jebi struck Japan on Sept. 4, 2018.

Chen expressed hope that the National Security Bureau can provide more information on Beijing’s troll farms and a future plan on how to deter foreign hostile forces.

According to a report published by The Australian Strategic Policy Institute on Oct. 28, Taiwan, the United States, and the United Kingdom are the three major victims of internal troll attacks and election interference. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party are the main targets of the CCP’s internet trolls.

Wu Minzhou contributed to this report.