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Media Literacy

Taiwan is stepping up its media literacy efforts to combat Fake News, East Asia News & Top Stories

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TAIPEI – A video of Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung singing into a microphone at a dinner party drew criticism from internet users and an opposition leader when it went online last Wednesday (November 10).

The leader of the main opposition Kuomintang party, Eric Chu, hinted that the minister should resign for being frivolous during the Covid-19 pandemic.

People who shared the video alleged the minister had amused himself in June this year when the island suffered from a series of local outbreaks and was subsequently locked down.

But they misunderstood a fact.

Last Thursday, ahead of his daily Covid-19 briefing, Mr. Chen said the video was taken in June last year when Taiwan had low case numbers and people’s usual activities were not restricted.

Although the misunderstanding was quickly resolved, the incident demonstrated the rapid spread of disinformation in Taiwan.

“Taiwan needs to step up efforts to educate its people on how to spot false information,” said Professor Hung Chen-ling, director of the National Taiwan University’s (NTU) Graduate Institute of Journalism.

She told The Straits Times, “The rampant spread of fake news and disinformation has gotten particularly bad in recent years, and the 2018 Kansai airport incident showed how damaging fake news can be.”

In the incident, Mr. Su Chi-cheng, the director of the Taiwan Representative Office in Osaka, hanged himself after wrongly accusing Taiwanese passengers stranded at Kansai Airport during a typhoon while travelers were leaving from China the Chinese embassy were looked after.

The Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported on the tragic event: “Taiwan is shaken by fake news.”

While Prof. Hung believes that Mr. Su’s death has led both the Taiwanese government and the public to reflect on how to avoid such tragedies recurring, the ongoing pandemic has increased the spread of disinformation.

A study of disinformation conducted by the University of Gothenburg in Sweden names Taiwan as one of the most common misinformation targets, she noted.

Many citizen groups have set up fact-checking services to help Taiwanese people identify whether information shared on social media sites and messaging apps is fact or fiction. These include the Taiwan FactCheck Center, Cofacts, and News Helper.

“But less than 25 percent of Taiwanese have used these fact-checking services,” NTU professor Wang Tai-li said at a journalism seminar on Friday.

“The other 75 percent may have heard of disinformation, but they may not know how to distinguish and deal with it.”

Some elementary and middle schools have included media literacy classes in their curriculum to help students spot fake news in everyday life.

Journalists and educators are now working with technology giants like Google and the messaging app Line to increase Taiwanese media literacy.

On November 4, the Taiwan FactCheck Center announced that it would be holding approximately 600 media literacy workshops to promote disinformation initiatives over the next three years, thanks to a $ 1 million (SGD 1.35 million) donation from Google finance.

The workshops are aimed at those who could be disadvantaged by Taiwan’s ever-changing online scene, including the elderly, residents of remote areas, and new immigrants.

Taiwan FactCheck Center Chairman Hu Yuan-hui said, “Fact checking is not all-powerful.

With much of the disinformation being spread through Line in Taiwan, the company has launched several anti-false news initiatives while vowing to protect user privacy.

New features in the app allow Taiwan’s 19 million users, who make up a whopping 80 percent of the island’s population, to report fake news or disinformation received through Line.

About 500,000 reports have been filed in the past two years, said Chen Li-ren, general manager of Line Taiwan.

The app also publishes stories on its Line Today news platform that have been proven wrong.

“Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the view rate for this section has quadrupled,” said Chen.

The feature is also available to users in Hong Kong, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Mr. Chen added that the company has also developed interactive lessons and games for teachers that can be used in school media literacy classes, and Line hopes the children will share what they have learned with their parents and grandparents.

Mr. Hu of the Taiwan FactCheck Center said, “All stakeholders need to be involved – members of the public, media, technology companies, fact-checking organizations, universities, the government.”

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