Media Literacy Education: Taiwan’s Key to Combating Disinformation

Media Literacy Education: Taiwan’s Key to Combating Disinformation

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Media Literacy Education: Taiwan’s Key to Combating Disinformation

As Taiwan grapples with the outcome of its 2024 election, its diverse media ecosystem has become something of a double-edged sword. While it offers a rich tapestry of perspectives, the diversity risks forming echo chambers and creating openings for manipulation by foreign actors, particularly the People’s Republic of China (PRC). More than just an election, 2024 has become a crucial test of democratic resilience in the face of potential fragmentation and manipulation, forcing voters to navigate a media maelstrom and to critically evaluate the narratives shaping their choices.

In Taiwan, the digital landscape is currently undergoing a remarkable transformation, with a staggering 90 percent of the population (20.20 million) actively participating on one or more social media platforms, averaging six and a half platforms per individual. Such widespread online engagement is emblematic of a seismic shift in how Taiwanese individuals navigate the digital realm, blending real-life interactions with online activities, as highlighted in Taiwan Network Information Center’s (TWNIC, 財團法人臺灣網路資訊中心) Taiwan Internet Report 2023. Of particular note is the increasing reliance on social media by government agencies, including the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW, 衛福部) and the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA, 經濟部), particularly during critical periods such as crises or discussions on contentious policies.

As Taiwan embraces this digital surge, it has increasingly encountered the challenge of echo chambers fueled by media polarization. Within these environments, actors amplify extreme content in pursuit of engagement, raising concerns about constructive discourse. Negative and inflammatory content can shape virtual communities, fostering ideological alignment and “Warmth-Seeking” (取暖) behaviors that shield users from dissenting views. This phenomenon can have the effect of stifling diverse perspectives and undermining informed decision-making. Consequently, tackling this issue has become crucial for preserving robust public dialogue and ensuring a well-informed citizenry in the digital age.

Taiwan’s Media Reception & Trust

Data from Freedom House’s 2023 Freedom on the Net report has revealed a concerning trend in Taiwan’s online landscape. While a significant percentage (23 percent) of internet users report that they actively combat misinformation, a much larger group (63 percent) remains silent. This hesitancy might be linked to the growing online political divide, acknowledged by 80 percent of users (up from 77.65 percent in 2022). In response, a resounding 83 percent of respondents expressed a desire for the government to develop regulations to combat the spread of misinformation.

Echo Chambers

The phenomenon of echo chambers, known locally as tongwenceng (同溫層), has become a defining feature of Taiwan’s digital arena. Rooted in the natural inclination of modern internet users to seek interaction with like-minded individuals, these virtual communities go beyond mere online engagement. As described by Cass Sunstein in 2017, “freedom of choice can produce self-sorting, in which people enter echo chambers or information cocoons.” More specifically, internet users are drawn to those with similar opinions and values, forming virtual communities characterized by commonality, cohesion, and a distinct sense of identity and safety. Despite the internet’s promise of connectivity, the “separation” (分離感) feature persists, posing significant challenges to users and governments alike.

These insular online communities reinforce pre-existing beliefs by exposing users only to curated content that aligns with their perspectives. This phenomenon, known as the “Echo Chamber Effect” (ECE), exacerbates media polarization by restricting exposure to diverse viewpoints and encouraging limited critical thinking. In the context of Taiwan’s vibrant democracy, ECE raises concerns about the potential erosion of constructive idea exchanges, which could lead to more severe societal divisions. Consequently, addressing the ECE will be crucial, not only for promoting a more informed and engaged citizenry, but also for safeguarding the democratic foundations of Taiwanese society.

Existing Government Responses

The Taiwanese government has proactively responded to the challenges posed by echo chambers and the imperative for enhanced media literacy by introducing the Digital Era Media Literacy Education White Paper (數位時代媒體素養教育白皮書), unveiled by the Ministry of Education (MOE, 教育部) on March 30, 2023. Originating from the 2018 False Information Prevention Project (防制假訊息危害專案), the initiative is intricately woven into the 108 Curriculum Guidelines (108 課綱), incorporating “Information & Media Literacy” as one of the nine core values in the educational curriculum. (For a more in-depth overview of the 108 Curriculum Guidelines, see Adrienne Wu’s January 2024 article in the Global Taiwan Brief.)

As a comprehensive update of the 2002 Media Literacy Education White Paper (媒體素養教育白皮書), the Digital Era Media Literacy Education White Paper outlines crucial steps to encourage a media-literate populace. These include educating individuals of all ages on how to discern misinformation and disinformation, providing targeted guidance for teenagers on the proper use of short videos, and emphasizing the importance of cyber safety, mainly concerning personal information.

At the heart of the new White Paper is the ambition to cultivate an informed and responsible population of digital citizens. Critical thinking is positioned as the central theme, unpacked into five key components: accessibility (近用), analysis (分析), creation (創造), reflection (反思), and activity (行動). This strategic approach involves:

  • Comprehensive integration across disciplines;
  • Fostering collaboration between the public and private sectors;
  • Strengthening interpersonal connections;
  • Bridging the gap between the digital world and reality.

This multifaceted approach places particular emphasis on education, including the stabilization of school education, the promotion of lifelong learning, and the enrichment of media education resources. Through these meticulous efforts, the Taiwanese government aspires to equip its citizens with the skills and values necessary to navigate the digital landscape adeptly, nurturing a society of digital citizens who engage critically, responsibly, and ethically both online and offline.

The Taiwanese government’s approach to tackling echo chambers and promoting media literacy through the Digital Era Media Literacy Education White Paper is commendable. However, navigating this complex issue requires acknowledging potential challenges and exploring further avenues for improvement.

Challenges to Consider

While the 2023 White Paper outlines ambitious plans for media literacy education in Taiwan, successfully implementing them will require overcoming several challenges. Integrating media literacy skills across diverse educational levels and fostering widespread awareness will necessitate innovative approaches, including equipping educators with the necessary knowledge and resources to combat potential implementation gaps.

In addition, the ever-evolving online landscape demands agility and adaptation. Current approaches for media literacy education would improve and benefit from continuous refinement by collaboration with individuals, professionals, and policymakers. Taiwan can build a resilient media literacy ecosystem by leveraging technology and fostering integrative approaches.

Addressing existing biases—including confirmation bias, groupthink, and the echo chamber effect—will also be crucial. Encouraging open dialogue and diverse perspectives will become central to challenging these biases and fostering a culture of intellectual curiosity and openness. By weaving such practices into the overall approach, media literacy can become a dynamic force for broadening individual perspectives and promoting a healthier information ecosystem.

Potential Avenues for Exploration

1) Promoting Media Creation Literacy:

Moving beyond the realm of fact-checking, the government should expand its focus to empower individuals to navigate the digital landscape critically, and create content ethically. This would entail training citizens to not just identify fake news (假新聞), but to contribute thoughtfully and ethically to online discourse.

Such efforts will necessitate more than mere debunking; they will involve responsibly harnessing the power of media creation. By integrating strategies for crafting educational and practical content while highlighting media ethics, an updated white paper could empower individuals to transition from passive consumers to active, responsible creators and viewers. This shift could potentially initiate a more informed and engaged online community where critical voices rise above the noise, and positive narratives naturally counter the deceptive allure of misinformation.

Moreover, embracing and promoting media creation literacy could provide dividends for Taiwan on the international stage. In other words, Taiwan could position itself as a leader in building a more discerning, resilient, and cohesive society by cultivating a population adept at crafting ethical and impactful content. By strategically investing in media creation literacy, Taiwan can safeguard against misinformation and lay the foundation for a positive digital future.

2) Engaging with Social Media Companies

Establishing a more responsible online environment will also require a collaborative effort involving governments and significant social media platforms like PTT (批踢踢實業坊), Dcard, Instagram, Facebook, X (Formerly Twitter), and YouTube. While governments play a crucial role in creating ethical frameworks and regulations, their effectiveness relies on coordinating with these platforms.

Rather than simply using these platforms to amplify government efforts, the government should attempt to collaborate directly with them in order to reshape the online ecosystem. Such coordination could contribute to a system in which algorithms act as discerning curators, prioritizing factual information over sensationalized content. Transparency and fairness would form the foundation of content moderation practices, ensuring consistent and responsible treatment of all online content. Additionally, joint initiatives for user education, empowered by both governments and platforms, could equip individuals with critical thinking skills, transforming them from passive consumers into active participants in online discourse. To incentivize proactive participation from platforms, governments could explore various measures, such as tax breaks, grants for the development of responsible AI tools, or public recognition for platforms demonstrating exceptional commitment to ethical content curation. This collective endeavor, in which governments establish the ethical framework and platforms ensure its harmonious implementation, could potentially cultivate a trustworthy and responsible online environment, benefiting both citizens and platforms alike.

3) Participating in Global Collaborations

Sharing best practices and collaborating with other nations grappling with similar media literacy challenges is not merely beneficial, but strategically critical. In pursuit of this, Taiwan should work to build a global network comprising educators, policymakers, and tech experts committed to combating misinformation and disinformation. Such a collaborative effort would not simply amplify individual initiatives; it would create a unified response by fostering the exchange of successful strategies, identifying emerging threats, and developing innovative solutions.

This could serve as a collective levee against the rising tide of misinformation. No single nation can effectively stand alone against this digital deluge. However, by joining forces, sharing resources, and leveraging expertise, Taiwan can collectively build a more robust and resilient defense. In turn, this could facilitate the development of standardized best practices, the creation of multilingual educational materials, and the implementation of cross-border initiatives designed to dismantle misinformation campaigns.

By critically examining potential challenges and exploring solutions, the Taiwanese government can continuously refine and strengthen its media literacy initiatives: ensuring their effectiveness in transforming a generation of engaged, responsible, and informed digital citizens equipped to navigate the complexities of the echo chamber effect and misinformation in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

Looking Forward

Taiwan’s robust social media landscape, while undoubtedly beneficial as a means of fostering connectivity and political engagement, also presents challenges in navigating the complexities of online information. The exponential rise of echo chambers and disinformation threatens the foundations of democratic discourse and informed decision-making. While the Taiwanese government’s Digital Era Media Literacy Education White Paper offers a commendable and proactive response, addressing potential implementation gaps, the ever-evolving information environment, and existing biases will be crucial for maximizing its impact. Furthermore, exploring initiatives like promoting media creation literacy, engaging with social media platforms, and fostering global collaboration can solidify Taiwan’s position as a frontrunner in responsible digital engagement and media literacy.

The main point: While fostering engagement, Taiwan’s social media landscape is rife with misinformation and echo chambers, which threaten democracy. In response, the government’s recent Digital Era Media Literacy Education White Paper has proposed a range of measures to promote media literacy education.