Detecting Digital Fingerprints: Taiwan’s resilience to Chinese disinformation


A series of campaigns by Chinese Communist Party-linked and domestic actors targeted Taiwan’s 2020 presidential election and its response to COVID-19 with narratives crafted to advance Beijing-strategic interests, according to a new analysis from Graphika, the Institute for The Future’s Digital Intelligence Lab and The International Republican Institute.

The joint report, Detecting Digital Fingerprints: Tracing Chinese Disinformation in Taiwan, reveals the tactics and strategy behind an information operation directed at Taiwanese democratic processes.

“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

  • 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.

“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 highlights the 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.


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