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US-Taiwan on Front Lines in Fight Against Disinformation

The United States and Taiwan are standing on the front lines in the fight against disinformation and have both experienced harmful disinformation in their respective democratic elections, the U.S.’ top envoy to Taipei said Tuesday.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of a workshop on combating disinformation, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Sandra Oudkirk praised Taiwan for its respect for “fundamental freedoms” and its strong commitment to the “free exchange of ideas.”

“At a time of democratic backsliding and human rights abuses elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific, Taiwan serves as an invaluable model to others,” she said. AIT represents U.S. interests in Taiwan in the absence of official diplomatic ties.

In the age of the internet and the emergence of artificial intelligence, however, the challenges brought by the spread of disinformation to open democratic societies are becoming more challenging, the AIT director said.

The “United States, Taiwan and many others are on the front lines as we grapple with the spread of disinformation and propaganda, particularly as foreign actors seek to use social media and emerging technologies to manipulate public discourse … and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions,” she said.

Amid this threat, such a forum was important for sharing experiences and best practices with like-minded representatives from governments, civil society and academia from all around the world, Oudkirk said.

“We believe a well-informed citizenry is key to the strength of democratic institutions, healthy and robust public debate, based on facts, evidence and research are integral to effective civic engagement,” Oudkirk said.

The de facto U.S. ambassador to Taiwan made the address during the opening ceremony of the two-day Indo-Pacific Workshop on Countering Disinformation organized by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, a government-funded NGO.

At Tuesday’s opening ceremony, David O. Shullman, senior director of the Global China Hub at the Atlantic Council, an American think-tank, warned of China’s disinformation campaign targeting Taiwan.

Beijing’s information efforts on Taiwan used to be “primarily focused on promoting a positive narrative, making the argument that unification will restore cultural ties and bring economic benefits to Taiwan,” Shullman said.

As support for the “one country, two systems model” in Hong Kong has faded in Taiwan, however, Chinese disinformation is now primarily directed at undermining trust and democracy in Taiwan and in Taiwan’s democratic government, Shullman said.

With Taiwan’s rich experience in combating Chinese disinformation warfare, however, it has also become an expert in this area, according to Shullman.

“Taiwan has combined high-tech efforts with more analog solutions, like improving government communication, crowdsourcing and maintaining tools for fact-checking and countering conspiracies and propaganda, and expanding the media literacy of education,” he said.

Source: Focus Taiwan