China reportedly targeted a Taiwanese boy band in its latest effort to influence the upcoming elections in Taiwan.
Sources told Reuters that Mayday, one of Taiwan’s most popular rock bands, was asked to publicly say that Taiwan is part of China, but its members refused to provide the “political service.” Chinese authorities reportedly threatened the band with a fine for lip-synching which is illegal in China. Weibo users had previously accused the band of lip-synching during their most recent tour in the mainland.
It’s part of Beijing’s concerted efforts to enlist Taiwanese celebrities and influencers in spreading pro-China messaging ahead of the January election. William Lai, the island’s current Vice President and pro-democracy candidate, is leading in the polls.
Taiwanese influencers fear career-ending backlash from China
Taiwanese celebrities rarely make political comments on cross-strait relations for “for fear of being locked out of the lucrative Chinese market or angering fans at home who identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese,” according to a 2021 Malay Mail article. A popular Taiwanese influencer this year effectively had his career ruined after announcing his bid to become a member of a pro-democracy party. China banned him from every social media site and Weibo users, including longtime fans, said his support of Taiwan’s independence was a “redline” for them. Chinese nationalism on Weibo incentivizes mainland users to “[dig] up dirt” on Taiwanese celebrities, one researcher told The China Project. “Individuals can draw traffic from doing these things and platforms often amplify their voices because this is a way for them to show political loyalty to the party,” the researcher said.
China’s soft ‘invasion’ of Taiwan targets voters’ economic woes
China is increasingly using subtle, “softer, non-military” attempts to influence the island’s fate, The Diplomat wrote. The country’s “hybrid warfare” approach doesn’t deploy military tools but covertly seeks to influence the masses in Taiwan through social media and economic coercion, the outlet reported. Several top Taiwanese influencers have posted pro-China commentary on their platforms, but their narrative has shifted from warnings about war to economic and cost of living issues, according to a task force monitoring mainland influence. Beijing’s numerous import bans on Taiwan have targeted products sourced from the southern part of the island, which is notably a stronghold for the ruling pro-sovereignty Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Taiwan’s online users are trained to counter disinformation
China has flooded the island’s social media with deepfakes of Taiwanese politicians making pro-unification comments, but “the Taiwanese public has shown increasing awareness and response to misinformation,” according to the University of Nottingham’s Taiwan Research Hub. Taiwanese social media users have been trained to use a variety of fact-checking tools to verify social media content, with more than 64% of voters using books and print media to double check data, according to one poll. Media literacy is helping the DPP, the New York Times reports, as voters resist being swayed by disinformation to vote for pro-unification parties.