Protecting Democracy in an Age of Disinformation: Lessons from Taiwan

Taiwan has long defended itself from political meddling, including disinformation, by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Attempts to influence Taiwan’s domestic politics have increased in both intensity and severity following the election of Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, with Beijing continuing to target the basic underpinnings of Taiwan’s democratic system. The disinformation campaigns carried out by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are often obscured by the secrecy and opacity of the CCP’s “united front” approach, which makes it difficult to accurately diagnose and right-size the problem of disinformation, complicating efforts to craft effective solutions.  While CCP disinformation campaigns pose a clearly identifiable threat to the United States and Taiwan, they are only one part of a larger disinformation problem facing democracies in this era of instant and omnipresent communication technologies. Indeed, the experience of both Taiwan and the United States suggest that rival political parties are incentivized to exaggerate and weaponize charges of “foreign interference” against each other—charges which often are more damaging to underlying trust levels in a democracy than the original foreign disinformation attacks themselves.  

This report was made possible by the generous support of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO). All opinions expressed herein should be understood to be solely those of the authors and are not influenced in any way by any donation.

Scott Kennedy
Senior Adviser and Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics

Scott Livingston

Former Fellow, Freeman Chair in China Studies

Bonnie S. Glaser