A Look Back at the Year of Tiger

A Look Back at the Year of Tiger

The Taiwan FactCheck Center published 706 fact-checking reports and 514 articles in 2022. They cover a wide range of issues and incidents including, most importantly, the Russia-Ukraine War in the spring, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan that sparked Chinese military drills in summer, and the nine-in-one local elections in Taiwan in the winter. 

Besides the fact-checking reports on online rumors, the articles published also aimed to introduce the latest fact-checking trends and research outside Taiwan, describe how disinformation trends form, provide predictions on how rumors evolve and guides for debunking them, and explain social controversies for readers to get hold of the key to the issues.

The TFC joins global fact-checking front-line of the Ukraine War

Since the beginning of 2022, as the war in Ukraine broke out, the TFC quickly stood with other countries’ fact-checking organizations to develop a worldwide “#UkraineFacts” collaborative database, initiated by Spanish independent fact-checker and journalistic platform Maldita.es and braced itself for the possible disinformation onslaught.

Image: An interactive map launched by Maldita.es that presents global fact-checks on Russian aggression.

The Taiwanese public was concerned about the war, but also witnessed a large number of unverified rumors that flowed into the Chinese-language Internet community from the end of February to May and June. And when the war-related rumors got translated into the Chinese-language world, the “anti-Ukraine, pro-Russia” rhetoric was often spinned into “anti-US, pro-China,” which aimed to weaken the public trust in the mass media. 

The TFC set up a special section on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, publishing fact-checking reports, introducing fact-checking resources, and translating information security reports on disinformation about the war. The TFC also held forums featuring “Three Lessons from the War in Ukraine.”

Image: Svitlana Slipchenko, the head of the Ukrainian fact-checking team Vox Check, spoke at the Forum on Fact-Checking in Asia hosted by the TFC. 

Speaker Pelosi’s Asia trip and Chinese military exercises: defense-related disinformation

When the TFC fact-checkers handled the Ukraine War disinformation, many felt that the rhetoric and the ruse used were not so unfamiliar. Soon later, in late July and early August when US House Speaker Pelosi visited Taiwan and China launched aggressive military exercises in retaliation, the team was immediately confronted with a surge of disinformation about the Taiwan-Strait tensions and strived to strengthen up the defense.

The TFC fact-checking team is deeply thankful and heartened that during the period of the disinformation onslaught, fact-checkers in Ukraine and from other countries sent their support and words of encouragement. 

The Chinese Communist Party had used disinformation, mainly at the end of July and in the first half of August, to bloat its military might and to intimidate the Taiwanese people. One of the most important fact-checking reports published by the TFC during this period was one debunking a fake photo released by the PLA claiming to have closely monitored Taiwan’s military frigate within Taiwan’s territorial waters off Hualien. The doctored photo was made by the Xinhua News Agency, or China’s official news agency, and provided to the Associated Press, through which the image was then used by media outlets around the globe. 

Many notable outlets failed to detect that it was a synthesized image, but retracted it and asked the AP for verification after the release of the TFC fact-checking report. The AP later notified its customers that the authenticity of the photo was questioned and removed it from its database.

The notorious altered photo released by the Chinese PLA during the military drill aimed at intimidating the Taiwanese public. 

The TFC found that while foreign media outlets have launched departments of digital investigation and visual investigation exposing Russia’s disinformation, the same extent, and level of understanding and alertness was not in place when it comes to China. This is clearly a huge gap to be filled. The TFC has set up special sections in both Chinese and English featuring Speaker Pelosi’s visit and the disinformation warfare that followed. 

Election-related disinformation takes different forms and lasts from June to December

The nine-in-one local elections took place in late November, while the TFC team had started defusing election-related disinformation in September. The team also found that old rumors about ballot rigging made a comeback as early as June, which notably subsided during the PLA military drills (in August) and then reemerged in September. In the face of the disinformation attack, the TFC had set up the 2022 nine-in-one elections special zone in the very early stage of the election period. 

The rumors that surged alongside the election-related disinformation during the election period were of the categories of public safety and food safety. The former piggybacked off the news about job seekers being lured to and abused in Cambodia, using sensational titles such as swindles, unidentified dead bodies washed ashore, and missing persons to unsettle the voters. The food safety rumors on the other hand were circulated by recycling old news stories.

Many other rumors during this period were about textbooks, education reforms, gender equality education, drug-related amendments, AIDS, and same-sex marriage, which came back or emerged at a time when there were no related discussions in society. There were also pandemic-related rumors that made a great effort in attacking Taiwan’s locally-made Medigen COVID-19 vaccine and Taiwan’s disease control measures. The spread of these rumors came to an abrupt halt about two weeks after the elections.

Image: A voting drill was held in Xinyi District, Taipei, on September 23, 2022, ahead of the nine-in-one local elections. (Taiwan FactCheck Center)