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'Troll' accounts taking cues from China state-affiliated media: Researchers

12/27/2023 09:28 PM
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Information analyst Billy Lin speaks at Taiwan AI Labs' press conference in Taipei on Wednesday to discuss the correlation between "troll accounts" and the influence drawn from Chinese state-affiliated media outlets. CNA photo Dec. 27, 2023
Information analyst Billy Lin speaks at Taiwan AI Labs' press conference in Taipei on Wednesday to discuss the correlation between "troll accounts" and the influence drawn from Chinese state-affiliated media outlets. CNA photo Dec. 27, 2023

Taipei, Dec. 27 (CNA) "Troll groups" attempting to shape online discourse about Taiwan's Jan. 13, 2024 presidential election appear to be taking cues from Chinese state-affiliated media, a research group said Wednesday.

Troll groups -- clusters of social media accounts acting with a suspicious degree of synchronization -- have mirrored the narrative pivots taken by Beijing-controlled outlets such as the People's Daily, Haiwainet, Xinhua News Agency, Global Times, and China Central Television (CCTV), according to a report released by Taiwan AI Labs.

Ethan Tu (杜奕瑾), the founder of Taiwan AI Labs, told a press conference in Taipei that between September and November of this year, China-affiliated media platforms focused on portraying the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as pushing Taiwan toward war.

Since December, however, Chinese reporting has shifted to "the repercussions of terminating the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA)," as well as "Taiwan's grim economic prospects," with troll groups following suit, Tu said.

Hwang Chao-hwei (黃兆徽), CEO of Taiwan AI Lab, told CNA that the organization has been monitoring leading social media platforms along with a total of 31,278 online troll accounts exhibiting similar activation dates, content, and comments since 2020.

Despite the correlation between some accounts and the messaging of Chinese state-affiliated media, not all troll activity aligned with Beijing's narratives, Taiwan AI Labs research showed.

For example, the primary narratives pushed by "YouTube #71012" -- the most active troll group on YouTube during the second week of December -- were either pro-DPP or critical of opposition parties, according to Taiwan AI Labs.

However, excluding YouTube, where partisan attacks were roughly equal, negative comments aimed at the DPP outranked those targeting the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) on all other social media platforms, including Facebook (14 percent vs. 3.1 percent), TikTok (22.6 percent vs. 19.4 percent), and local online bulletin board system PTT (15.1 percent vs. 6.4 percent), Taiwan AI Labs said.

(By Chung Yu-chen)

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