Following the 13 January election in Taiwan, ARTICLE 19’s Asia Programme reflects on the lessons learned about addressing digital authoritarianism, and the key role radical transparency and an engaged civic tech community played in confronting foreign information threats.
On 13 January, Taiwan voted in a presidential election that was bombarded by the full coordinated force of information manipulation and influence operations directed by the People’s Republic of China. Ahead of it, coordinated inauthentic behaviour spanned hundreds of Facebook profiles and cross-platform amplification of Beijing-backed disinformation from TikTok and YouTube, along with deepfakes and other AI-generated content. Despite this, Taiwan elected the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) – certainly not the result China had been trying to game.
China has a history of foreign information manipulation and influence operations targeting Taiwan, from economic to political and diplomatic pressure, to cyber and cognitive warfare, and increasingly sophisticated disinformation operations. In fact, the most recent dataset from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) and Digital Society Project tracking foreign government manipulation of social media and disinformation among 202 countries from 2000-2021 shows Taiwan as the country most targeted globally by foreign disinformation operations.
Rather than succumb to malicious foreign manipulation and influence, Taiwan has sought to ‘promote co-creation from tensions and conflicts,’ in the words of Digital Minister Audrey Tang, through a whole-of-society approach to digital democracy.
The threats facing Taiwan have not abated with the election. China is likely to react with redoubled hostility, both targeting the information ecosystem in Taiwan and seeking to poison international narratives against Taiwan. In recognising this, the international community should expand cooperation to develop and apply transferable best practices from Taiwan in confronting China’s global information manipulation and influence.