In May 2017, Taiwan’s highest court decreed in favour of gay marriage, but parliament has yet to bring in legislation.
The issue has divided Taiwan, fake news has gone viral against the referendum, but many same-sex couples there are hopeful that change will come.
The conservative side of Taiwan has been accused of spreading a flood of misinformation, proliferating across social media platforms like Line, the Japanese chat app that’s dominant in Taiwan.
The messages most likely to go viral are the ones that connect same-sex marriage with HIV, suggests Johnson Liang, the founder of CoFacts, a voluntary, collaborative chatbot for fact-checking questionable messages being disseminated on Line. CoFact volunteers verify the content of messages and the bot then responds back to the Line user.
One example of a message that went viral on Line last year, said Liang, is one titled “Strange! Why do they want to rush to legalize same-sex marriage?” The message, whose source is unknown, claims that Taiwan, which offers universal health-care, will attract HIV-positive homosexual men, who will gather in the country and marry Taiwanese men in order to use the health-care system. Because of the high cost of treating HIV/AIDS, the ultimate beneficiaries will be drug companies while taxpayers and the health-care system will suffer, the message goes on to say.
Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Administration replied to this “news” last year, clarifying that the cost of HIV/AIDS treatment in Taiwan was not as high as the figure indicated in these messages and that immigrant spouses of Taiwanese citizens are not automatically qualified to free health-care as soon as they get married.
Like many other countries, Taiwan is facing serious problems with the spread of fake news online. President Tsai Ing-wen even recommended that in the run-up to crucial local elections this weekend, people must be more careful about spreading fake news, and accused China of being the root of some of these messages in order to create divisions in Taiwanese society.
In a report delivered earlier this year, Wu Ming-hsuan, an activist and member of the tech community in Taiwan, said that a significant factor demonstrating the proliferation of fake news and misinformation in Taiwan was the influence of closed messaging groups on Line or Facebook, where many people, particularly the elderly, many of whom had never used the internet before, simply “touch, click, select, and forward” messages.
A pamphlet placed in mailboxes from a conservative group said that “based on the meaning of the rainbow flag,” legalizing same-sex marriage would make it legal to have sex with minors under 16. Voting in favour of marriage equality means “paving the way for paedophilia,” adding that “children are the treasure of the country’s future, what kind of parent would want this to happen?”
Another video that spread on Facebook shows a group of protesters supporting a mother who said that because of Taiwan’s gender-inclusive, progressive curriculum, her child was taught how to masturbate in class alongside students of the opposite sex. The woman claimed that she was the victim of smearing campaigns by groups supporting marriage equality.
In the most “Bolsonaro way” fake news is becoming a strong weapon to bring ignorance and fear to the mass of the populations nowadays, it is not only misleading with false information, but it is also a coward tactic to influence the elderly and people who are not engaged with what is happening in the world.
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