China's cyber army is spreading disinformation to incite public distrust in Taiwan amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau.

The Bureau stated that Chinese netizens have been smearing Taiwan's official notices on disease control as fake news. The pattern involves posting screenshots of Taiwanese government announcements that have been edited to include some simplified Chinese characters and then dismissing the information as unreliable. Some accounts pretended to have insider stories about dead bodies buried inside the Taipei Dome.

Liu Chia-jung (劉家榮), the bureau's deputy director-general, said a fabricated government notice was being circulated online, claiming Taipei residents can receive 10 free pieces of face masks from designated hospitals.

"There are two reasons for these fraudulent government materials. For one, Chinese netizens are unhappy with our restriction of face mask exports to China," Liu said. "They also assume Taiwanese have been spreading fake news on Chinese social media, and as an act of revenge, they're attacking us with a series of disinformation."

The Criminal Investigation Bureau issued a separate statement urging the public to stop sharing fake news on social media. CIB recently discovered many exaggerated stories online, including Facebook posts that claim a government van has been picking up patients who fainted on the street and sending them to an unknown location.

CIB Deputy Commissioner Chu Tsung-tai (朱宗泰) said spreading rumors to undermine the government's disease control efforts is a crime punishable by up to NT$3 million (US$99,245) in penalty and three years in prison, according to the Special Act on COVID-19 Prevention, Relief, and Restoration.

The smear campaigns have had little impact, a CIB investigator said, as Taiwanese netizens were quick to point out the discrepancies.

A non-profit organization, Taiwan FactCheck Center, has been working with social media platforms to verify information as well as to educate the public on spotting and reporting fake news.

Foreign Minister Joseph Wu criticized the Chinese "cyber warriors" for disrupting Taiwan's efforts in controlling the Covid-19 outbreak on Twitter. "So this is epidemic fighting with Chinese characteristics. I'm speechless," he wrote.

Taiwan has reported 41 confirmed cases of infection and one death so far, while 12 patients have recovered from the disease.

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TNL Editor: Jeremy Van der Haegen (@thenewslensintl)

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