Taiwan Election: Three Weeks Out

Last Friday, December 13, 2019, Facebook announced it had removed 118 fan pages, 99 groups, and 51 accounts supporting Taiwan’s KMT presidential candidate, Han Kuo-yu. Our team at SIO had been observing several of the Groups removed, including one that was prominently featured in media coverage of the takedown: 2020韓國瑜總統後援會(總會)[“2020 Han Kuo-yu presidential support group (General group)”]. In this weekly update, we discuss 2020韓國瑜總統後援會(總會), look at how the news of the takedown has affected the Taiwanese political social media conversation, and discuss a specific misinformation campaign related to voting.

2020韓國瑜總統後援會(總會)[“2020 Han Kuo-yu presidential support group (General group)”] 

The 2020韓國瑜總統後援會(總會)group was created in September 2017, and went by the name “Kaohsiung Fan Group” before Han Kuo-yu ran for mayor. At the time of its removal, the group had over 150,000 members and 109 admins and moderators - unusually high compared to the average admin and moderator counts for Taiwanese political groups of either affiliation (pro-Han Kuo-yu groups averaged 27, and pro-Tsai Ing-wen Groups, 10). 

Several of the moderators for this Group were suspicious: the profiles had zero or one friend, profile pictures that were not of real people (ie, pictures of a Chinese landmark or an actress), and minimal human engagement on their posts, photos, etc. These accounts appear to have been removed as part of the recent takedowns.


An example of one of the suspicious admin profiles that has since been taken down. 

Content-wise, 2020韓國瑜總統後援會(總會)focused on calling on members to vote for Han Kuo-yu, raising awareness about the candidate’s activities, and quoting sources and press that claim that Han Kuo-yu will win. One post from December 5th stated that Xie Longjie (謝龍介), a KMT politician, estimated that Han Kuo-yu would win the election by a margin of 900,000 votes.

Reaction to the takedown in across social media groups 

Reaction to the takedown has sparked a collective response from members’ whose pages got taken down, and initiated an attempt to regenerate  their groups. A new group, 2020韓國瑜總統後援會(全球總會), which added, “全球” to its name, which translates to “international support group” promoted within various other pro-KMT groups as a replacement for the removed 2020韓國瑜總統後援會(總會) already has 17,054 members as of today and shares several of the administrators of the defunct 2020韓國瑜總統後援會(總會). 


Promotion post for the new group 2020韓國瑜總統後援會(全球總會)


​2020韓國瑜總統後援會(全球總會) membership as of December 19, 2019.

Another Group, formerly 韓國瑜總統 唯一支持韓國瑜 (“President Han Kuo-yu Only support Han Kuo-yu”), renamed itself 2020韓國瑜總統後援會(總會), most likely to opportunistically benefit from the media and social media attention on the removed group of the same name. However, the rebranded group is being decried as a “copycat”, and activists are encouraging their audiences to join the new replacement instead.


​韓國瑜總統 唯一支持韓國瑜 renamed itself 2020韓國瑜總統後援會(總會)shortly after the takedown, possibly to benefit from the media attention to the takedown.


​Newly renamed 2020韓國瑜總統後援會(總會)more than doubled its members in the week following its renaming.

The removal of the pages, groups, and accounts has also prompted conspiratorial theories about why they were taken down in the first place. Many posts in the remaining network of KMT Groups decried Facebook’s efforts as being in coordination with the DPP (the party of presidential incumbent Tsai Ing-wen), for example sharing this video in which plays text of a picture of Mark Zuckerberg and talks about the takedown. Online activists and group members described the efforts as censorship and even shamed it as a new “Green Terror” (“綠色恐怖”). This is a reference to the White Terror - the brutal oppression of political dissident Taiwanese people endured when the country was a dictatorship - rebooted to allude to the DPP, whose party color is green. 


​Post in Han Kuo-yu support facebook group promoting the new 2020韓國瑜總統後援會(全球總會)group and accusing facebook of bias, hashtagged “Green Terror” (綠色恐怖).

 
​Another post accusing Facebook of coordinating with the DPP, linking the takedown to DPP-trolls (“1450網軍”). 

Some DPP-linked fan pages also discussed the removal, although the topic was secondary to a continued focus on the Hong Kong protests. DPP supporters leveraged the takedown to decry the hypocrisy of ongoing KMT allegations that  the DPP uses online bots and trolls to promote its position.

Overall, the reaction to the takedown is similar to the partisan reaction we have observed in  response to other recent news, including last week’s blog post in which we discussed the KMT accusation that the DPP had a green “net army” used to attack the diplomat in charge of the Kansai International Airport evacuation. In both cases, KMT-aligned supporters spoke about how their group is the victim of untrue stories--in the green “net army” that the DPP is ironic in accusing the KMT of influencing others online during the 2018 election, and in this most recent case by saying that Facebook is aligned with the DPP.  

Other anomalous behavior: a manipulative meme about ballot numbers


​An example of a user posting the disinformation content that was posted on the 9th to the KMT page.  

A final observation related to activity surrounding the Taiwan election in Facebook communities relates to memes about voting. On December 9th, the presidential candidates drew numbers that correspond to their placement on the ballot. KMT candidate Han Kuo-yu and his vice president ticket got  number 2, while Taiwan’s current president Tsai Ing-Wen’s ticket chose number 3. These numbers were then incorporated into catchy slogans by each campaign,designed to remind voters to vote for their candidate. Later that day, the Taiwanese publication Taro News reported that a KMT-fan Page had posted a picture with a cartoon of Tsai Ing-wen and her running mate with the caption: “Taiwan wants to win, vote No. 2”. The picture shows a cartoon Tsai and vice president holding up a number two. The post has since been removed, but DPP supporters have made a YouTube video and spread screenshots to create a record that it happened. People angry that KMT supporters would play dirty and mislead fellow voters have left comments and screenshots of the misinformation meme on nearly every post on the Page since the incident. In the screenshot above, the red arrows point to the misinformation, and the comment reads, “As a Taiwanese, I feel that this behavior is really shameful. People must have ambitions. A party with many ambitions has no credibility.”

Looking forward to 2020

We have observed a range of behaviors within fan groups for both the DPP and KMT party, including Page/Group name changes, identical posts blasted across multiple fan pages within a few minutes by the same account, and profiles dedicated exclusively to political activism (with few indications that they are used for more general Facebook activity), but they all appear to be domestic and show no indication of foreign interference. Memes containing misinformation appear, but gauging the extent to which they are intended to deceive (and their original provenance) is at times difficult. This reflects the challenge of placing activities on the spectrum from legitimate activism to manipulative behavior. We will continue to watch the engagement and behavior of these Groups and Pages as the election nears. 

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