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HomeGood NewsIn Taiwan, a group is battling fake news one conversation at a time with a focus on seniors

In Taiwan, a group is battling fake news one conversation at a time with a focus on seniors

In Taiwan, a group is battling fake news one conversation at a time with a focus on seniors

In Taiwan, a group is battling fake news one conversation at a time — with a focus on seniors

 

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Their days often began at the crack of dawn.

They’d head out to a church, a temple, a park and set up a stall. They’d seek out seniors in particular, those who are perhaps the most vulnerable citizens of the information-saturated society that has enveloped them. To get people to stop and listen, they’d offer free bars of soap — a metaphor for the scrubbing that they were undertaking.

Volunteers of Fake News Cleaner guide students through the LINE app to identify fake news during a class in Kaohsiung City, southern Taiwan, Thursday, March 16, 2023. An anti-misinformation group in Taiwan called Fake News Cleaner has hosted more than 500 events, connecting with college students, elementary-school children — and the seniors that, some say, are the most vulnerable to such efforts. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
 
 

They’d talk to people, ask them about their lives and their media consumption habits. They’d ask: How has fake news hurt you? They’d teach techniques to punch through the static, to see the illogic in conspiracy theories, to find the facts behind the false narratives that can sometimes shape our lives.

Nearly six years later, with just one formal employee and a team of volunteers, Fake News Cleaner has hosted more than 500 events, connecting with college students, elementary-school children — and the seniors that, some say, are the most vulnerable to such efforts.

Its people are filling up lecture halls and becoming a key voice in an effort as pressing here as anywhere: scrubbing Taiwan of disinformation and the problems it causes, one case at a time.

BATTLING THE EFFECTS OF STORIES THAT AREN’T REAL

Like any democratic society, Taiwan is flooded with assorted types of disinformation. It touches every aspect of a person’s life, from conspiracy theories on vaccines to health claims aimed at promoting supplements to rumors about major Taiwanese companies leaving the island.

Moon Chen, a volunteer of Fake News Cleaner, guides students through the LINE app to identify fake news during a class in Kaohsiung City, southern Taiwan, Thursday, March 16, 2023. An anti-misinformation group in Taiwan called Fake News Cleaner has hosted more than 500 events, connecting with college students, elementary-school children — and the seniors that, some say, are the most vulnerable to such efforts. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
 
Moon Chen, a volunteer of Fake News Cleaner, guides students through the LINE app to identify fake news during a class in Kaohsiung City, southern Taiwan, Thursday, March 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
 
Students of Fake News Cleaner listen to volunteers as they learn how to use the LINE app to identify fake news during a class in Kaohsiung City, southern Taiwan, Thursday, March 16, 2023. An anti-misinformation group in Taiwan called Fake News Cleaner has hosted more than 500 events, connecting with college students, elementary-school children — and the seniors that, some say, are the most vulnerable to such efforts. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
 

Despite its very public nature, disinformation has a deeply personal impact — particularly among Taiwan’s older people. It thrives in the natural gaps between people that come from generational differences and a constantly updating tech landscape, then enlarges those gaps to cause rifts.

“They have no way to communicate,” says Melody Hsieh, who co-founded the group with Shu-huai Chang in 2018. “This entire society is being torn apart, and this is a terrible thing.”

Chuang Tsai-yu, sitting in on a recent lecture by the group in Taipei, once saw a message online that told people to hit their chest in a way that would save them in the case of heart discomfort. She said she actually tried it out herself.

Later, she asked her doctor about it. His advice: Go directly to the emergency room and get checked for a heart attack.

“We really do believe the things people will send us,” Chuang says. “Because when you’re older, we don’t have as much of a grasp on the outside world. Some of these scammers, they will write it in a way that’s very believable.”

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