Audrey Tang explains why the fight against disinformation is crucial in the event of a pandemic | Coronavirus pandemic News

Digital Minister Audrey Tang is arguably one of the most prominent Taiwanese politicians internationally, renowned for her leadership in the Taiwanese fight against disinformation and her work in civic-minded open source software.

Tang was already an established programmer when she started working for the government following the Taiwan Sunflower Movement in 2014, a mass protest that saw students occupy the Legislature to protest a trade deal with the China.

Since 2016, Tang has been a member of President Tsai Ing-wen’s cabinet as a minister without portfolio and is also a key member of g0v (“gov zero”), an open source activist movement that works on civil society projects and of the government.

Al Jazeera spoke to Tang about his work against COVID-19 rumors and how social media like the Taiwan PTT bulletin board – similar in structure to Reddit – can help. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you tell us how you got involved with Taiwan’s contact tracing system? I imagine you must have helped develop it quickly.

Audrey Tang: Of course, but it was not my idea. He was part of the g0v, or “Gov zero” community, which is made up of tens of thousands of people who watch digital services and “fork” government services to create better versions and better alternatives in a way that is free of restrictions. copyright for public use. . After the g0v community came up with a standard 1922-SMS based contact tracing system (toll free), we adopted and implemented it, so it was like reverse provisioning. The specifications came from the community, from the social sector, and we have just implemented them. I think the whole implementation took less than three days and there were no apps – so no one needed to download an app.

Why was it important to avoid using an app? What are your concerns?

Silk: Well, it’s for digital inclusion reasons. Although everyone in Taiwan enjoys broadband as a human right, and most people – even the elderly – own phones or smartphones, around 20% lack the ability to download, install and maintain applications. Because of this, our most popular anti-COVID app, the National Health Insurance Administration’s NHI Express app, has only been (downloaded) by about a third of the population. So, to take care of the other two-thirds of people who don’t usually use the app or the 20 percent of people who have no experience downloading an app, a QR code-based app-free design and Everyone’s favorite SMS – like trusted formats was very important.

What type of digital system will Taiwan adopt for its vaccination cards?

Silk: We are implementing the European Union (Digital Preservation Center) standard, which is an electronically signed QR code based system to track COVID tests as well as vaccination records. The current situation is that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is negotiating bilaterally with other jurisdictions that have implemented the same standard so that we can facilitate international travel. The deployment schedule is likely by the end of this year.

We don’t plan to roll out any special apps due to digital inclusion. We are working with the idea that there is this simple website where you can download a yellow (vaccine) card and print it yourself or just show it on your phone.

Has the Covid-19 been your biggest challenge since taking office?

Silk: The body virus, of course, is very difficult, but most of the strategies come from the decentralized command center (Taiwan Centers for Disease Control). The digital (side) simply assists the contact tracers. My biggest challenge, as digital minister, is actually the virus of the mind, i.e. infodemic – those polarized and indignant posts about the most antisocial corner of social media and how to prevent its natural progression towards hatred, revenge and discrimination. This has been the biggest challenge.

What kind of examples have you seen in Taiwan?

Silk: In the pre-Covid days, around November 2019, leading up to our January 2020 presidential election, there was a trend of viral disinformation that spoke – and I’m quoting – of “Hong Kong youth are being paid $ 20 million to kill the police ”end of quote. This is obviously not true, but it is not a trend elsewhere, not in Hong Kong, just in Taiwan, so we saw this kind of message as an attempt to provoke and change the public discourse in an attempt to influence our presidential election campaigns.

Where does this rumor come from?

Silk: The accompanying photo was from Reuters, but the Reuters reporter actually didn’t say anything about (the protesters) being paid. The original caption simply says there were teenage protesters, and that’s it. Someone else provided the misleading caption and in just a day or two, the Taiwan Fact-Checking Center, an independently run fact-checking service, traced this message to the political central units. and legal, Zhongyang Zhengfawei 中共中央 政法 委員會, of the PRC. (People’s Republic of China) and their Weibo account, nothing less.

Have you noticed a recent spike in disinformation with the escalation of Chinese military flights near Taiwan?

Silk: Not particularly. When people become aware of the factual situation like the actual flight path etc that our Defense Minister posts on social media literally every day then people are more willing to have a conversation about it. – even instead of adhering to any misinformation.

Taiwan had a major problem with Covid-related misinformation a few months ago. Has the situation improved?

Silk: I think it is decreasing, because (although) we are certainly not entirely post-pandemic, we have had weeks with essentially no local cases. And I think we’ve postponed the pandemic again, so people are a lot more relaxed with the vaccinations. I think tomorrow there will be 70% of people vaccinated and about 30% of people fully vaccinated, and we are progressing by more than one percent every day.

Taiwan stepped up vaccinations, which helped reduce COVID-19 to negligible levels [File: Ritchie B Tongo/EPA]

Since taking office, how have you seen issues like disinformation evolve?

Silk: When I started tackling the issue of disinformation in early 2017, at the time, there were no clear standards on what kind of disinformation (requires) public notice and countermeasures , and which are only a normal part of the conversation of people in a liberal democracy and therefore do not need any intervention from the state or multinational companies.

This progression seemed natural as we allowed public matters and public affairs to be discussed primarily in private sector venues, so it’s like having a chat at town hall, but in the local nightclub with smoky rooms and loud music, addicting drinks and bouncers.

I have nothing against the entertainment sector, but these are not the places to hold discussions in town hall. Since 2017, we have doubled our investments in the digital equivalent of public infrastructure and worked with existing forums such as the PTT (Bulletin Board), which has existed for more than 25 years, without advertisers or shareholders.

It seems they have less of a problem with disinformation because of their governance structure?

Silk: Truth be told, since the PTT started to implement self-regulatory standards to counter disinformation, it’s like a “set of standards”, not like a law or something that other companies media, including Facebook, have also adopted – at least in our jurisdiction. For example, in 2019, as I mentioned, prior to the 2020 presidential election, Taiwan was among the first jurisdictions where Facebook also posted (information from) our national audit office, campaign donations and funds spent on actually sponsored social and political advertising. time as an open data set for investigative journalists.

[The above is unclear. What did the PTT start to implement? Does she mean perhaps – Ever since we started using PTT to counter disinformation and establish self-regulation norms, it’s as a “norms package”…?]

They also found foreign sponsored political and social ads during the election period, again, in line with the standards package, so I think a strong enough social sector and strong enough alternatives can motivate both national private sector companies, or international ones like Facebook, to conform to the standard already set by the social sector.

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