The Roaring Information War: Scholar Huang Jaw-nian proposes 3-dimensional strategy – source, spread & receive

Dokidoki Interview Ep.16

  • Author / Dokidoki Safety
  • Editor / IORG Research HQ

“In a nutshell, it’s an authoritarian system pitted against a democratic one,” said Huang Jaw-nian (黃兆年), assistant professor at National Chengchi University’s Graduate Institute of National Development. Huang thinks China is using information to manipulate the international community to change its perception of itself in order to forge an acceptance of authoritarianism, or the Chinese model.

A recent IORG report reveals the existence of China’s information manipulation in Taiwan, with case studies including: The Kansai Airport Incident, corruption claims for former Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu (陳菊), claims that the U.S. flu virus is worse than Covid-19, claims that the U.S. released the coronavirus through military games in Wuhan, claims that the U.S. flu virus is actually Covid-19, hijacking the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag with propaganda, claims that Taiwan’s Central Election Commission was involved in voter fraud, among others. Our analysis shows there’s a high similarity in the logic of the narratives coming from China, that democratic government is irresponsible and inefficient.

Source: Dokidoki Safety.

Interview date / 2020.11.20

# Telling a bad story about democracy and building an endorsement for authoritarianism

Citing examples from the IORG report, Huang says that China highlights the shortcomings of democracy by “telling a bad story about democracy” and uses the opposite perspective to influence people’s perceptions of authoritarian government or that the China model is safer and more effective.

Why is China doing this and how should we respond to this new pattern of information warfare? Huang Jaw-nian arranges the information into three phases: “source”, “spread” and “receive” and notes that there is a common problem in these interconnected phases: local proxies.

Local proxies can be roughly classified into two types: local proxies for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), who usually have specific financial exchanges or are directly commanded by China. Such proxies are usually involved in the source and spread phases of distribution. The other type is a local proxy without specific interests; they may be motivated simply by political ideology, their emotions are high, and their activities are concentrated in the spread and receive phase.

# Source type: Legislative norms + information transparency

Huang puts forward a number of suggestions on how to deal with these different local proxies. He first summarizes two ways to deal with information in the source phase: the first approach is prohibition, such as Taiwan’s Anti-Infiltration Act, which prohibits certain behaviour such as receiving funds or direction from the CCP. This kind of legislation can deter their activities in the short term, but it’s possible they may circumvent legislation through loopholes in the long term. The second approach is information transparency by regulating and encouraging local proxies to disclose their affiliation, the source of funding, or information becomes transparent. “I think this is a more positive way, and can endure for a long time.”

Australia is also affected by China’s information warfare, and enacted the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act last year. The legislation obliges foreigners to register their lobbying activities, and make information about the types of activities, purpose and source of their funding transparent. After the passage of the Act, many former officials quit their positions with Chinese organizations to avoid being identified as foreign agents. “To some extent, transparency will be more effective and powerful than prohibition,” said Huang.

#傳播、接收端首要任務:課責、媒體識讀

再來談到「傳播端」,此階段黃兆年認為重點處理方法是「課責」,讓特定或非特定的協力者,尤其是具有傳播功能的媒體角色,落實事實查核,提供公民社會公正、多元的資訊,盡到本該擔負的社會責任,實現更完整的新聞自由。最後,在「接收端」主要成為即為一般閱聽大眾,這個階段需著重在讓民眾「賦能(empower)」,建立個人的媒體讀、資訊判斷能力。

上述三個階段的因應方式,主要從制度面考量,但在黃兆年的觀察中,文化面所潛藏的心理因素,才是資訊操弄得已發揮影響的關鍵,在當前社會,彼此信任與包容性相對不足,少數立場的人容易在輿論弱勢的情況下,找不到歸屬感,這時若看到符合內心立場的訊息,即使資訊不正確,也會選擇性的相信與傳播,黃兆年認為這會是最根源的問題。

因此,讓社會更具包容性,促進不同立場間的對話,每個人能從中找到認同感與歸屬感,他/她就不需要藉由傳播假訊息,來滿足心理需求。黃兆年相信,這比起制度面的管理,更能夠永續、和平的解決台灣面對資訊操弄的問題。