Exploring Chinese Military Thinking on Social Media Manipulation Against Taiwan

Published in: China Brief, Volume 21, Issue 7, pages 25–35 (2021)

Posted on RAND.org on May 19, 2021

by Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, Jessica Drun

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Much has been written about China's social media manipulation in Taiwan following the 2018 nine-in-one local elections, but both Taiwanese and Western analyses have skewed heavily towards the impact of this disinformation, overlooking how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) developed its interest in social media manipulation, its planning and preparation against Taiwan specifically, and the evolution of its tactics over time.

This article seeks to address a gap in the current policy discussion and provide evidence of PRC planning for covert manipulation of Taiwanese social media. So far, too much of the academic and policy conversation in Taipei and elsewhere has focused on the outputs of PRC disinformation (purported examples of PRC disinformation and local reporting on the consequences), instead of exploring the inputs of PRC thinking, conceptual framing, and planning and technical preparation for executing social media manipulation campaigns. While this emphasis on outputs stems in part from well-documented difficulties in attribution of inputs, it is nonetheless dangerous to overlook these PRC primary sources, because a lack of understanding of the most likely perpetrator's thinking is a disservice to broader efforts to combat disinformation.

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