Dissecting the false claims of electoral fraud in the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election
Dissecting the false claims of electoral fraud in the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election
(This article is part of an analysis series of disinformation trends during the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election.)
A new Taiwanese president was elected on January 13, 2024. However, disinformation attacks on the presidential election persisted even after the election was over. False claims alleging electoral fraud committed during the voting and counting process quickly gained traction. Fortunately, the rumors quickly subsided thanks to Taiwan's transparent electoral process and prompt reactions from civil society, the government, and the majority of news outlets. The experience of how electoral disinformation was propagated in Taiwan and how Taiwanese society countered the claims could be a helpful example for countries holding elections this year.
In this 2024 Taiwanese presidential election, Lai Ching-te (also known as William Lai) of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) defeated two other candidates, Hou You-ih of the Kuomintang Party (KMT) and Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). Hou and Ko conceded they lost the presidential election on the night after the votes had all been counted. Lai won 40.1% of the votes, while Hou received 33.5% of the votes, and Ko, who was popular among Taiwanese younger generations, garnered 26.5%.
Even though Hou and Ko delivered their concession speech immediately following the unveiling of the election results, there was a significant spread of allegations of vote-counting fraud on social media. In fact, weeks before the election, claims or “warnings” that the ruling party intended to rig the election had already circulated on social media.
Nearly half of the false claims about electoral fraud that the Taiwan FaceCheck Center debunked weeks prior to the 2024 election were identical or similar to old rumors seen in previous elections, such as the claims that the ruling party used special ink and ballot boxes with secret openings to illegally boost the number of votes. Some assertions distorted real events and claimed that the ruling party tried to change rules to shield the vote-counting process from being scrutinized. Moreover, there were pieces declaring that the U.S. would help the ruling party cheat in the election, such as dispatching teams “with advanced technology” to manipulate data stored in the Taiwan Central Election Commission. The purpose of these rumors was to seed doubts about the fairness of the electoral process prior to the election.
However, what was striking about the electoral fraud disinformation circulated in this 2024 election was the surge of claims alleging counting fraud during and after election day. In past elections, a few pieces of disinformation claimed that poll workers illegally stuffed votes for the elected presidential candidate or that the total number of votes did not match. These pieces were all swiftly debunked by fact-checkers before they could cause a stir in Taiwanese society. But in this 2024 election, a wave of false information pieces containing videos and photos, posing as “eyewitness evidence of vote-counting fraud,” quickly spread on social media and stoked anger among voters, particularly youth groups.
YouTube and TikTok, which were popular among Taiwanese young generations, were the primary platforms on which the “vote-counting fraud [作票]” pieces were propagated. Some influencers with large groups of young followers also promoted unsubstantiated counting fraud videos. The TikTok and YouTube videos were subsequently forwarded to LINE and Facebook.
In addition to replicating themes from prior elections’ disinformation, this new wave of false vote-counting claims centered on polling staff’s “suspicious behaviors” in increasing vote counts in polling locations. For example, one video showed a poll worker taking a stack of ballot papers from a large black bag. The video’s title and comment read: “How dare you say that there was no vote fraud?” Another social media user posted photos of vote recording sheets, claiming that the counts of votes had been manipulated. “The green (DPP) and blue (KMT) parties were like a family and collaborated to commit voting fraud,” stated the person who shared the photos on social media. The person went on to say that this type of fraud may have occurred in prior elections. As more “evidence of vote-counting” emerged, a compilation of the video clips and images became widely circulated and drew millions of viewers on platforms like YouTube.
A screenshot of a YouTube video showed a poll worker taking a stack of ballot papers from a large black bag. The video’s title and comment read: “How dare you say that there was no vote fraud?” (Our fact-check)
With these videos and pictures recorded at polling stations, it seemed that there was clear evidence of vote-counting fraud, only that the images were all proven to be false. Taiwan FactCheck Centers found that the majority of these incorrect information pieces about counting frauds misrepresented actual vote-counting events or exaggerated faults that were quickly remedied at polling stations.
There are also claims that the counting numbers displayed during TV news live coverage were suspicious and evidence of counting fraud. This type of fake information, like the amplification of quickly corrected faults in polling stations, took advantage of flaws that had already been fixed. The creators of the false information took the errors out of context and exaggerated them to “prove” that the election was rigged and democracy in Taiwan could not be trusted.
In addition to these misleading claims based on videos and photos taken directly from polling stations, the Taiwan FactCheck Center discovered a manipulated video in which malicious actors combined different segments of vote-counting scenes to convince viewers that poll workers intentionally and illegally added votes to specific candidates.
A screenshot of a TikTok video in which the creator combined different segments of vote-counting scenes to convince viewers that poll workers intentionally and illegally added votes to specific candidates. (Our fact-check)
Chart 1 summarizes the narrative themes and counts of false electoral fraud claims circulated before, during, and after the 2024 presidential election (1).
Chart 2 demonstrates the techniques and counts of false electoral fraud claims in the 2024 presidential election (2).
It is difficult to identify the parties that created the false electoral fraud claims. Many videos and photos in the pieces seemed to have been taken by people physically present in polling stations on election day; the comments accompanying the images were also written in Taiwanese colloquial style. As mentioned earlier, some Taiwanese influencers popular among the young Taiwanese generation were big promoters of these problematic videos and images. According to the Taiwan Information Environment Research Center (IORG), the number of “electoral fraud” videos posted on TikTok and the views they attracted were higher than those on YouTube.
Fortunately, the circulation of the claims of electoral fraud and the disturbance they incurred receded in a few days. The transparency of the electoral and vote-counting procedures in Taiwan, the debunking efforts of fact-checking organizations, and the influencers and mainstream media that timely conveyed correct information to society all played important roles in preventing false information from further damaging society's trust in this election and democracy.
Taiwan does not allow mail-in voting in its electoral procedure. As a result, all voting and counting take place at polling stations. All citizens who wish to observe the counting process are welcome to do so, and supervision personnel from various political parties closely monitor the proceedings. When counting ballots, poll workers carefully announce and display each paper ballot, scrupulously recording the results for public examination.
It is the transparency and careful documentation of polling results that help fact-checkers gather valid evidence to verify rumors. For example, fact-checkers in the Taiwan FactCheck Center examined the videos and photos, identified the locations of polling stations, interviewed polling workers and oversight personnel, and compared documents of counting results kept by the onsite workers, the TV news stations, and the Central Election Commission to confirm the information. The accounts and documents from the workers on the scene provided well-grounded and convincing evidence to expose the flaws in the lies and dispel the doubts cast on the election.
Several social media influencers also voluntarily and promptly spread messages to refute the electoral fraud claims. YouTube channels with large subscribers, such as @mystery2018[異色檔案] and @Froggychiu[呱吉], made videos to explain the vote-counting process and used reports produced by fact-checking organizations to debunk rumors. Moreover, while reporting on the online wave of unsubstantiated electoral fraud allegations, most Taiwanese mainstream media also relayed information that rebutted the false claims, assuring audiences that the election process was transparent and the results were fair.
To sum up, the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election showcases how false information about electoral fraud can pose a significant challenge: Creators of false information repackaged old rumors and started the false claims attacks prior to the election. After the election, further false information emerged. The false claims distorted or exaggerated real events with videos and images from the site, even making the false information seem more plausible. Additionally, some online influencers popular among young voters propagated false information. However, the Taiwan experience also demonstrated that spontaneous efforts from different social sectors could effectively deter the spread of false claims. Each of the sectors—the transparent election process and the government’s response to inquiries that helped fact-checkers investigate, and the media and influencers’ delivery of correct information by engaging valid facts—contributed to the fight and rapidly formed a defense chain, fending off the attacks on the election and protecting the integrity of democracy.
Wei-Ping Li is a research fellow at the Taiwan FactCheck Center.
“Problematic voting device” refers to claims asserting voting tools were tampered with, such as “suspicious ink” and tampered ballot boxes.
“General electoral fraud allegation” refers to vague claims, such as the false information stating the U.S. has ordered the Chairperson of the Taiwanese Central Election Commission to cheat in the election.
“High-tech cheating” refers to the false information claiming that malicious actors would use “advanced technology” to manipulate the vote counts.
The definitions of the techniques are as follows:
misinterpret or distort the original meaning
produce nonexistent elements
Used flawed methods to count the vote or mixed up the numbers
Takes an image or other content and puts it into a new false context
Make changes to images or content