False information attack a major concern among Taiwanese people

False information attack a major concern among Taiwanese people

Taijing Wu

Over 90 percent of Taiwanese people who responded to a survey in January 2022, said they are aware of the harm of false information proliferation, and that it seriously harms the Taiwanese society. As one of the means to identify false information, the survey, published by Taiwan FactCheck Education Foundation (Taiwan FactCheck Center), finds that people would ask family and friends’ opinions, listen to specialists, and would also use existing fact-checking mechanisms.

This is the first large-scale investigative survey made by the foundation that focuses on the phenomenon of Taiwanese society’s false information proliferation, and the approaches to fight it.

The result of the survey on fact-checking and misinformation in Taiwan 2022 was published at a forum held by  Taiwan FactCheck Education Foundation on February 18, 2022, in Taipei City. (Photo: Taiwan FactCheck Foundation)

The sources of false information

As many as 93 percent of the respondents expressed their concern about false information’s harm to society as “serious” and “very serious”. Among the people who took the survey, 74.5 percent of them said they received false information during the past year, while 32.6 percent said they receive it on a frequent basis. Only 8 percent said they had never received false information in their daily life.

The survey also finds that average people point at journalists, politicians, and foreign forces as the most common sources of false information, and 85 percent believe that it is spread via the Internet and 70 percent said it spreads via mobile phones. These two factors are followed by television, radio, newspapers, and magazines.

People believe that false information seriously affects trust within society. Among the respondents, 71 percent said it reduces the credibility of media outlets and 69 percent think that it affects politicians’ credibility. Meanwhile, 58 percent said it decreases trust in the government’s policies and 51 percent believe it jeopardizes interpersonal relationships and the country’s democratic mechanisms.

Executive Yuan Minister without Portfolio Lo Ping-cheng said that preventing the proliferation of false information is like preventing infectious diseases and that every single person should have the ability to identify false information. He also said fighting false information requires cross-domain cooperation, and that it is not only a legal issue. 

Lo made the statement at a forum in Taipei City on February 18, 2022, when the results of the survey were published. The statistics were exposed to discussions with a panel of representatives from various social media platforms and Internet portals, such as Meta, Line, and Google. Academics focusing on media studies were also members of the panel.

False information “Third-Person Effect” brewing in Taiwan

Besides the increasingly serious false information proliferation, the study has also found a growing “Third-Person Effect” within the Taiwanese society.

Hsieh Ji-lung, an assistant professor at the prestigious National Taiwan University (NTU) said at the forum, “What I found interesting is that when asked if a false information would easily affect the respondent, 58% of them said they would not, but 94% of them said they believe ‘other people’ would be easily affected.”

According to Hsieh, most people are aware that false information often happens in their lives, but they have rather less confidence in other people’s capabilities to identify false information.

“This is evidence of the ‘Third-Person Effect’ theory, which is when people think they will not be fooled but believe that other people might be affected by false information,” said Hsieh.

Hsieh Ji-lung, an assistant professor at the prestigious National Taiwan University (Photo: Taiwan FactCheck Foundation)

According to the survey, over 50 percent of the respondents would use a fact check mechanism when they suspect any information they receive, and over 70 percent would alert their family and friends about false information.

The fact check platforms available in Taiwan are Taiwan FactCheck Center, MyGoPen, Rumor & Truth, Cofacts, getdr.com, Line Fact Checker, Checkcheck.me, and others.

The survey also said that the interaction between Taiwanese people is key to identifying and repressing false information and that over 70 percent of the respondents are able to make the difference between a “fact” and an “opinion”, regardless of their age and education level.

“Before the survey, we assumed that political ideologies would affect people’s identification of false information. But the results showed that political ideologies only influence a minor part of respondents,” said Hsieh.

Media and social platforms responsible for false information spreading

The survey finds out that most people think that the responsibility to fight false information’s spreading fall on the shoulders of media, the Internet and social media platforms. As many as 90 percent of people are supportive in amending laws to have social media platforms build up self-discipline mechanisms to prevent the proliferation of false information. 

Surprisingly, even at the risk of jeopardizing freedom of speech, 69.1 percent of the respondents are willing to let the government and tech companies have certain mechanisms to limit the circulation of false information on the Internet.

How to fight false information

Upon receiving any suspicious information, 65.9 percent would first ask friends and family members, while 64.6 percent would listen to professionals. Those who would check related data and printings represent 54.4 percent of the respondents, and 54.1 percent would use a fact check mechanism.

When identifying false information, 76.4 percent would alert friends and family members, and 39.7 percent would publish the information by clarifying it as false information. Only 23.8 percent would leave a comment to flag it and 17.6 percent would contact its source to ask that it be removed.

Professor Hung Chen-ling of NTU concluded on the survey’s findings.

“The results of this survey hope to make the society aware of the proliferation of false information and fact-checking mechanisms (to counter it). We need to find the most suitable approach to fight against false information in Taiwan via discussions with all members of the society, social media, and governmental platforms,” said Hong.

This survey was made via phone calls and online questionnaires with 2,416 effective samples. The phone calls were made between January 10 and 16 with 1,200 effective samples and the questionnaires were filled up online between January 10 and 13 with 1,216 effective samples.

Professor Hung Chen-ling, the Director of the Graduate Institute of Journalism, National Taiwan University. (Photo: Taiwan FactCheck Foundation)


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