November 30: Information Operations and Democracy: The Case of Taiwan

November 30: Information Operations and Democracy: The Case of Taiwan

Tuesday, November 30, 2022 from 11:30AM – 1:00PM (ET)

Event Description:

The Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) is pleased to invite you to a seminar titled “Information Operations and Democracy: The Case of Taiwan.” Around the world, authoritarian governments are leveraging information operations to influence the democratic process. As malign entities adapt to evolving social, technological, and political landscapes, the threat of influence operations to democracy is growing more complex. 

In many ways, Taiwan’s position as a target of information operation campaigns from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has made it a canary in the coal mine. For decades, Taipei has been forced to grapple with these continuously evolving threats that have grown in scope and volume. As Taiwan is set to hold its local elections on November 26, the impact of its efforts to combat information operations will be on full display. What can be learned from Taiwan’s strategy to counter malign forces in information operations? How can fellow democracies expect these threats to evolve? Where can Taiwan cooperate with the international community to address these challenges? This panel will discuss what Taiwan has already done to combat information operations and how other democracies can learn from its efforts. This event is organized by the Global Taiwan Institute and supported in part by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.

Doors will open at 11:00 AM, and the event will begin at 11:30 AM. If you plan on attending in-person, please RSVP here by November 29, as seating is limited. A light lunch will be provided. Please only register if you would like to attend in-person. Please direct questions or concerns to Program Manager Marshall Reid at mreid@globaltaiwan.org.

The event will also be broadcast live on our website and on YouTube beginning at 11:30 AM.

**Media: Please contact Marshall Reid at mreid@globaltaiwan.org if you would like to bring additional crew members or equipment, so that we can be sure to accommodate you.

COVID Procedures: Proof of vaccination will be required at check in. Attendees unable to provide documentation will be required to wear a mask. Masks are optional for vaccinated individuals who are able to provide proof of vaccination. 

The Speakers:

Poyu Tseng is a researcher at Doublethink Lab. Her research focuses on state-funded disinformation, how it influences people, and how to create a counter-narrative to combat it. She is an activist concerning youth empowerment, human rights, and open government. She is the co-author of the first report that examines the development of open government in Taiwan from 2014 to 2016. Her recent work mainly focuses on conducting capacity-building training in disinformation knowledge and media literacy for Southeast Asia NGOs.

Samantha Bradshaw is a scholar of new technology and democracy. She is an Assistant Professor at American University’s School of International Service, and an Associated Faculty member at the Center for Security, Innovation and New Technology (CSINT). Prior to joining AU, Samantha was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Stanford University working at the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law the Digital Civil Society Lab, and the Program for Democracy and the Internet. Her research examines the producers and drivers of disinformation, and how technology—artificial intelligence, automation and big data analytics—enhance and constrain the spread of disinformation online..

Dean Jackson is project manager of the Influence Operations Researchers’ Guild, a component of the Partnership for Countering Influence Operations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He specializes in how democracies and civil society around the world can respond to disinformation, influence operations, and other challenges to a free, healthy digital public square. From 2013 to 2021, Jackson managed workshops and publications related to disinformation at the International Forum for Democratic Studies, a center for research and analysis within the National Endowment for Democracy. Prior to his time at the National Endowment for Democracy, he worked in external relations at the Atlantic Council. He holds an MA in international relations from the University of Chicago and a BA in political science from Wright State University in Dayton, OH.

Nick Monaco is a disinformation researcher, linguist, and OSINT practitioner. He currently serves as chief innovation officer and director of China research at Miburo Solutions. His primary research focus is Chinese disinformation, particularly as it relates to Taiwan and the cross-Strait context.

The Moderator:

Russell Hsiao is the executive director of GTI, senior fellow at The Jamestown Foundation, and adjunct fellow at Pacific Forum. He is a former Penn Kemble fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo’s Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia. He previously served as a senior research fellow at The Project 2049 Institute and National Security fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Prior to those positions he was the editor of China Brief at The Jamestown Foundation from October 2007 to July 2011 and a special associate in the International Cooperation Department at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. While in law school, he clerked within the Office of the Chairman at the Federal Communications Commission and the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center at the Office of the US Trade Representative. Hsiao received his JD and certificate from the Law and Technology Institute at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law where he served as the editor-in-chief of the Catholic University’s Journal of Law and Technology. He received a BA in international studies from the American University’s School of International Service and the University Honors Program.

Event Summary:

On November 30, the Global Taiwan Institute hosted a public seminar titled “Information Operations and Democracy: The Case of Taiwan.” The event featured Poyu (“Fi”) Tseng of Doublethink Lab; Samantha Bradshaw of American University’s School of International Service; Dean Jackson of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Influence Operations Researchers’ Guild; and Nick Monaco of Microsoft. The event was moderated by GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao.

Tseng began the event by discussing the key findings from Taiwan’s 2022 local elections, concluding that there was disinformation related to Taiwan’s relations with the United States (e.g., false narratives that the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] was selling semiconductor manufacturer TSMC to the USA), and different information operations (IO) methods; but that overall, there was less foreign interference in comparison to the 2018 elections. She proceeded to explain that the drop in foreign influence likely stemmed from uncertainty surrounding the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 20th National Congress, pandemic-related restrictions, budgeting constraints, and the lack of a suitable, CCP-friendly candidate. Tseng argued that the change in methods was manifested in the amplification of false narratives to attack government integrity on Chinese social media. Meanwhile, the attacks on US credibility were also used to sow distrust in the Taiwanese government. Ultimately, Tseng suggested that information operations are becoming increasingly difficult to identify, and have been successful in generating long-term distrust in the government.

Next, Monaco discussed the broader implications of Chinese IO, highlighting several recent developments. He argued that since CCP information operations have become increasingly aggressive, they constitute a greater threat to Taiwanese democracy. Monaco also identified four fundamental aspects of CCP IO: influencing, localization, privatization, and scale. He elaborated on the examples of these four elements, concluding that CCP disinformation initiatives operate on an unparalleled scale. In response to this, Taiwan is attempting to combat them via collaborations between the public and private sectors.

To continue the discussion, Bradshaw spoke about the evolving tactics of IO, including trend predictions for the next five years. She mentioned that information operations have developed into a full spectrum of operations that utilize the entire media ecosystem. Furthermore, Bradshaw emphasized the dangerous nature of IO, as they often leverage identity and other human biases to polarize citizens and undermine social movements. She argued that identity-based propaganda disseminates further and faster, making it difficult to moderate. 

Jackson also elaborated on the field of IO, mentioning the need for new collaborative models for research. Additionally, he maintained that these hubs and tools must be developed in advance of crisis moments. Ultimately, Jackson encouraged Taiwan to play a greater role international role in this field, explaining that with its substantial experience in combating IO, Taiwan could become a global hub for IO research. 

In response to a question posed by Hsiao, Tseng described the effectiveness of the CCP’s IO campaigns. She concluded that Chinese information operations have indeed influenced  voters, resulting in higher levels of distrust for the DPP government. She continued by detailing impactful tactics such as disinformation campaigns regarding COVID-19, which have resulted in vaccine distrust and aversion. Next, Monaco described the use of language and translation in CCP external propaganda and IO initiatives. He cited the overt weaponization of local languages in the media outlets of Southeast Asian countries as examples of the impact of these campaigns. Monaco also discussed more covert methods in which the CCP operates, pointing to the use of peer influencers to spread their message. Ultimately, Jackson maintained that to combat this, Taiwan should collaborate with Southeast Asian actors to strengthen networks, increase representation, and build the capacity to conduct further research on information operations.

This summary was written by GTI Fall 2022 Intern Anais Fang.

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