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Coronavirus “Fake News” in Taiwan Spotted by Japanese Fact-Checking Body [2020/04/10]

“Fake news” is a familiar term even to the Japanese public, thanks to its repeated use by U.S. President Donald Trump to dismiss media coverage critical of his administration. Fake news has a damaging effect on the political, economic and every other arena.


With this in mind, The Nippon Foundation is supporting a project to fact-check questionable information regarding the coronavirus outbreak. This was in line with a proposal by Mr. Ichiro Kabasawa, executive director of the foundation and a former journalist with NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster.Let me share with you the first result of the project.


It concerned a tweet that spread in Taiwan at a time when fake news about the coronavirus outbreak was proliferating in many countries. Dated February 28, it was purportedly posted by Mr. Taro Kono, Japan’s Defense Minister, and was accompanied by his photograph.


The tweet said in Japanese: “As we received 500,000 masks from Taiwan, I pray for the safety of Taiwan.” The post drew comments thought to be from Taiwanese critical of their government for allegedly sending a large number of masks to Japan at a time when the purchase of masks by local residents in Taiwan was restricted.


A fact-checking organization in Taiwan, Taiwan Factcheck Center (TFC), requested FactCheck Initiative Japan (FIJ) to verify the authenticity of the tweet. Founded in 2017 to support journalists, media outlets and others in fact-checking questionable information, FIJ started a special website in early February this year focusing on fake news on the coronavirus outbreak.


A journalist who works with FIJ contacted the office of Mr. Kono and found out that he did not tweet such a message. Upon receiving this information from FIJ, TFC posted a message in Chinese on its website that the tweet was a fake, and posted the same message on Facebook as well.


This fake news may have aimed at instigating criticism of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who won reelection in January on promises not to allow China to bring Taiwan under its authority. However, it poses a serious problem for Japan if a fake tweet attributed to a Japanese Cabinet minister spreads overseas through social media.


We decided to support this initiative with the aim of combating fake news on the coronavirus pandemic. But I believe it will be one of Japan’s new diplomatic challenges to detect, monitor and prevent fake news going viral against Japan overseas.


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FactCheck Initiative Japan (FIJ) investigated this tweet, purportedly from Japan’s Defense Minister Taro Kono, which read: “As we received 500,000 masks from Taiwan, I pray for the safety of Taiwan.”FIJ confirmed that the tweet, which spread around Taiwan, was a fake.


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