Digital Minister Audrey Tang is arguably one of Taiwan’s most high-profile politicians in the international arena. She is well-known for her leadership in combating false information in Taiwan and her work on civic-conscious open source software.
After the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan in 2014, when she started working for the government, Tang was already a mature programmer. This was a large-scale protest where students occupied the legislature to protest the trade agreement with China.
Since 2016, Tang has been a member of President Tsai Ing-wen’s cabinet as a non-public minister and an important member of g0v (“Zero Government”), a radical open source movement dedicated to civil society and government projects.
Al Jazeera spoke to Tang about her work in combating COVID-19 rumors and how social media like Taiwan’s PTT bulletin board (structure similar to Reddit) can help. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell us how you participated in the contact tracking system in Taiwan? I think you have to help develop it quickly.
Audrey Tang: Of course, but this is not my idea. It is part of the g0v or “Zero Government” community, where thousands of people are looking for digital services and “forking” government services to make better versions and better alternatives without copyright restrictions. The solution is for public use. After the g0v community proposed a contact tracking system based on the standard 1922-SMS (toll free), we adopted and implemented it, so it’s like reverse procurement. The norms come from the community, from the social sector, and we have just implemented them. I think the entire implementation process is less than three days, and there is no application-so no one needs to download any application.
Why is it important to avoid applications? What are your concerns?
Tang: Well, this is for reasons of digital tolerance. Although everyone in Taiwan enjoys broadband as a human right, and most people—even the elderly—have mobile phones or smartphones, about 20% of people do not have the ability to download, install, and maintain applications. Therefore, our most popular anti-COVID application, the NHI Express application of the National Health Insurance Administration, has only been (downloaded) by about one-third of the population. Therefore, in order to take care of the other two-thirds of people who are not accustomed to using apps or 20% of people who have no experience in downloading apps, a no-app design based on everyone’s favorite QR code and SMS-like trusted The format is very important.
What kind of digital system will Taiwan’s vaccine card use?
Tang: We are implementing the EU (Digital Management Center) standard, which is a QR code system based on electronic signatures for tracking COVID test and vaccination records. The current situation is that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is conducting bilateral negotiations with other jurisdictions that implement the same standards so that we can facilitate international travel. The launch schedule may be at the end of this year.
Due to digital inclusion, we do not plan to launch any special applications. Our idea is to provide a simple website where you can download the yellow (vaccine) card and print it out by yourself or display it directly on your phone.
Is Covid-19 your biggest challenge since taking office?
Tang: The virus of the body is of course very challenging, but most of the strategies are from the scattered command centers (Taiwan CDC). The number (side) is only to assist the contact tracer. My biggest challenge, being a digital minister is actually a virus in my head, that is, Information epidemic – Those polarized, anger-based messages posted in the more antisocial corners of social media, and how to prevent them from naturally developing into hatred, revenge, and discrimination. This is the biggest challenge.
What kind of examples have you seen in Taiwan?
Tang: In the days before the outbreak of the new crown virus, around November 2019, before our January 2020 presidential election, popular disinformation was talking about—I quote—“Young people in Hong Kong were paid for 2000 Ten thousand dollars to kill the police” offer ended.This is obviously not true, but it is not popular anywhere else, not in Hong Kong, but only in Taiwan, so we think this kind of information is trying provoke And change public discourse in an attempt to influence our presidential campaign.
Where did this rumor come from?
Tang: The picture of this false information comes from Reuters, but the Reuters reporter did not actually say that (the protesters) were paid. The original title just said there were young protesters, nothing more. Others provided misleading headlines. In just a day or so, the Taiwan Fact-Checking Center, an independent fact-checking service agency, traced the news to the Central Political and Legal Unit Zhongyang Political and Legal Committee. The same is true with their Weibo account.
With the escalation of China’s military flights near Taiwan, have you noticed the recent surge in false information?
Tang: Not special. When people are aware of the actual situation that our Secretary of Defense publishes on social media every day, such as actual flight routes, etc., people are more willing to have a conversation around the problem itself rather than buying any misinformation.
A few months ago, Taiwan encountered a major problem with Covid-related misinformation. Has the situation improved?
Tang: I think it is declining because (though) we are certainly not completely after the pandemic, we have basically no local cases for a few weeks. And I think we have postponed the pandemic again, so people feel more relaxed about being vaccinated. I think that by tomorrow, 70% of people will be vaccinated, about 30% will be fully vaccinated, and we will improve by more than 1% every day.
Since assuming your position, how do you see the changes in issues such as misinformation?
Tang: As early as 2017, when I started to solve the problem of false information, there were no clear regulations on what kind of false information (needs) to publicize and countermeasures, which are just normal parts of people’s dialogue, free and democratic, so there is no need for a country Or the intervention of multinational companies.
This progress seems natural, because we allow public issues and public affairs to be discussed mainly in the private sector, so this is like holding a town hall discussion, but in the local nightclub there are smoky rooms, loud music, and addictive drinks. And private bodyguards.
I am not opposed to the entertainment industry, but these are not the places where city hall discussions are held. Since 2017, we have doubled our investment in digital equivalents of public infrastructure and have cooperated with existing forums such as PTT (Bulletin Board), which have existed for more than 25 years without advertisers and shareholders.
It sounds like they have fewer problems with misinformation due to their governance structure?
Tang: To be honest, since PTT started to implement anti-false information and self-discipline regulations, it has been a “regulatory package”, not something that the law or other media companies (including Facebook) also use-at least within our jurisdiction. For example, in 2019, as I mentioned, on the eve of the 2020 presidential election, Taiwan was the first jurisdiction where Facebook released (from) our National Audit Office, campaign donations, and funds used to sponsor social and political advertising. One of the districts. Time serves as an open data set for investigative reporters.
[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 advertisements during the election. Again, according to the regulatory package, I believe that a strong enough social sector and strong enough alternatives can incentivize domestic private sector companies, or international companies like Facebook, Comply with the norms already set by the social sector.