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Taiwan, on China's doorstep, is dealing with TikTok in its own way| GuyWhoKnowsThings

As in the United States, TikTok is popular in Taiwan, used by a quarter of the island's 23 million residents.

People post videos of themselves shopping for trendy clothes, dressing up as video game characters, and playing pranks on their roommates. Influencers share their choreographed dances and debate whether sticky rice dumplings are better in the north or south of Taiwan.

Taiwanese users of TikTok, owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance, are also receiving the kind of pro-China content that the US Congress cited as a reason for doing so. passed a law that could result in TikTok being banned in the United States.

A recent example is a video showing a Republican congressman, Rob Wittman of Virginia, stoking fears that a vote for the ruling party in Taiwan's January election would trigger a rush of American weapons to aid the island's democracy. in a possible conflict with China, which it claims as part of its territory. A fact-checking organization flagged the video as fake and TikTok removed it.

About 80 miles off the coast of China, Taiwan is particularly exposed to the possibility of TikTok being used as a source of geopolitical propaganda. Taiwan has been bombarded with digital misinformation for decades, much of it traced back to China.

But unlike Congress, Taiwan's government is not contemplating legislation that could result in a ban on TikTok.

Taiwan officials say the debate over TikTok is just one battle in a war against misinformation and foreign influence that the country has already been fighting for years.

Taiwan has built an arsenal of defenses, including a deep network of independent fact-checking organizations. There is a government ministry dedicated to digital affairs.

And Taiwan was early to label TikTok a national security threat. The government issued an executive order banning it on official devices in 2019, along with two other Chinese apps that play short videos: Douyin, which is also owned by ByteDance, and Xiaohongshu.

The political party that has ruled Taiwan for the past eight years (and will do so for another four when Lai Ching-te assumes the presidency on Monday) does not use the app, even during the campaign season, due to concerns about its data. collection.

Here in Taiwan, lawmakers say, they can't afford to think of TikTok as the only threat. Misinformation reaches Taiwanese internet users on all types of social media, from chat rooms to short videos.

“If you say you are targeting China, people will ask why we are not also talking about others,” said Puma Shen, a lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. “That's why our strategy should be to regulate all social media platforms, not just TikTok,” said Shen, former director of Doublethink Lab, a disinformation research group in Taipei.

Taiwan has a deeply rooted culture of freedom of political expression, having taken the first steps towards democracy only about three decades ago. The debate is thriving on a wide variety of social media platforms, including Taiwanese online forums such as Dcard and Temple of professional technology.

But the most used platforms have foreign owners and TikTok is not the only one. YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, operated by publicly traded American companies, are even more popular than TikTok in Taiwan. And Line, a messaging app owned by a Japanese subsidiary of South Korean internet giant Naver, is commonly used in the country as a source of news and a way to make payments.

Taiwan lawmakers are considering measures that address internet threats (fraud, scams and cybercrime) broadly enough to apply to all of these existing social media platforms, including TikTok, as well as anything that could replace them in the future.

A proposal introduced this month would require influential platforms that feature online advertising, which effectively covers them all, to register a legal representative in Taiwan. Officials said these restrictions were not aimed at TikTok.

“We currently think that TikTok is a product that endangers national information security, but this designation does not specifically target TikTok,” he said. Lee Huai-jen, outgoing spokesperson for the Ministry of Digital Affairs. The ministry applied the same classification to other Chinese short video apps, including Douyin and Xiaohongshu, which have large audiences in China.

In March, executives from TikTok's Singapore office met with political and government officials in Taiwan. The company spoke with officials to “seek their feedback on our platform and to detail the many ways we keep our community safe,” a TikTok spokeswoman said. She added that the app's data collection policies were in line with industry practices.

When Taiwan went to the polls in January, several organizations and government agencies were on hand to make sure the conversation on TikTok stuck to the facts.

TikTok contacted Taiwan's election commission, police agency and Ministry of the Interior to flag potentially illegal content. Tik Tok He said he had deleted it. nearly 1,500 videos for violating its policies on disinformation and election integrity, and removed a network of 21 accounts that amplified pro-China narratives. Also worked with a local fact-checking group to tag election-related videos with resources on misinformation.

But the day after the election, the website of the Taiwan Fact Check Center, a non-governmental organization that works with technology companies such as Google and Meta, was overwhelmed by thousands of visitors, according to its executive director, Eve Chiu.

Many had seen videos on TikTok and YouTube showing volunteer poll workers making errors in counting votes and questioning the election results, Chiu said. Some of these videos were real, she added. The problem was that viewers were primed to think the scale of the error was much larger than it was.

While Taiwan's ruling political party did not use TikTok to campaign, its opponents, whom Beijing views with less antagonism, did.

But some worry that this has made it easier to spread pro-China views on TikTok, and that Taiwan's approach to regulating social media is not strong enough to confront the persistent threat of foreign influence online.

“In the United States, the goal is very clear – this platform – but in Taiwan we don't know where the enemy is,” Ms. Chiu said. “It's not just a cross-Strait issue, but an internal one.”

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