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Full Report Launch: Deafening Whispers

China’s Information Operation and Taiwan’s 2020 Election

A Framework to Analyze China’s Information Operations — Developed by Doublethink Lab

China’s boycott campaign against Swedish retailer H&M last month has put the spotlight on Chinese information operations, and how it can easily shut down the operations of even one of the largest fashion retailers in the world. While the operations against H&M were shocking in terms of scale and success, the influence tactics used are not new.

Key Actors Behind China’s Information Operations

Our framework looks at two main components: the actors behind these operations and their modes of operation.

  • Political, capital suitor (bottom left-hand quadrant): Other than national actors, local state actors such as the local CPPCC committees at the province level and the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) also function as the political actors of information operations. They include social media platforms controlled by the Chinese government, “patriotic accounts”, and paid trolls.
  • Economic, capital owner (top right-hand quadrant): A third group are mainly actors with business interests such as commercial media, as well as marketing and public relations companies (and YouTubers), which are paid to help promote Chinese propaganda. They also involve local gangs willing to take the money to do the bidding of these information operations.
  • Economic, capital suitor (bottom right-hand quadrant): These are groups such as Facebook fan pages or commercial content farms which repost disinformation or conspiracy theories for the purposes of earning a quick buck.

The Four Modes of Operations of China’s Information Operations

  • Pink Mode: This mode operates in a more local and less-capital intensive manner, and comprises mainly the Little Pinks or “patriotic accounts” which tend to spread low-end disinformation instead of propaganda and are less organized than the Propaganda Mode.
  • Content Farm Mode: This mode is made up of large influencers with a profit-motive, who use their social media accounts to spread information generated by content farms. The instigators have also learned to connect propaganda with day-to-day issues to appeal to individuals.
  • Collaboration Mode: In this model, there are no specific instigators or agents, rather actors work together to manufacture and distribute disinformation in a hybrid “funded by China, made in Taiwan” manner.

Future Research Directions

The Characteristics of Information Operations: Information Manipulation, Investment-Linked and Ideology-Driven (3I)

Conclusion: A Framework to Investigate Chinese Information Operations

China has stepped up its information operations under Xi Jinping in the last few years, and the menacing threat of China’s authoritarianism requires a clear framework to examine how the CCP conducts its information operations so that counterstrategies can be developed to prevent these influences from disrupting our societies and democratic resilience. The framework developed by Doublethink aims to provide researchers with the tool to do so.

About the report — Deafening Whispers

Doublethink Lab | Authors

  • Po-Yu Tseng, Social Engagement Team Researcher
  • Shih-Shiuan Wilson Kao, Legal Researcher
  • Min-Hsuan Wu, Chief Executive Officer
  • Dr. Puma Shen, Assistant Professor at National Taipei University, Chairman of Doublethink Lab
  1. Evidence shows that China launched both online and offline attacks during the 2020 Taiwan general election and COVID-19 pandemic. This paper categorizes China’s information operations into four modes: Propaganda Mode, Pink Mode (Chinese nationalism related), Content Farm Mode, and Collaboration Mode (local cooperators related), based on the attackers’ capabilities and motivations. The Content Farm Mode and the Collaboration Mode caused more significant harm than the other two.
  2. The attack intensity of information operations and the challenges to investigating them are related to two factors: China’s domestic political tensions and the diligence of local proxy actors. First, China’s international relations and political tensions have changed in the past two years. The CCP has powered through its propaganda to stir Chinese nationalism which raises the bar for investigators to differentiate patriotism and state-funded actors. Second, proxy actors have actively participated in China’s information operations. Even though some of the attacks are initiated by China, there are many foreign actors who amplify it. It is the proxy actors who hook local actors up with the CCP, therefore, the intensity of information operations depends on their efforts.
  3. Specific narratives have dominated the 2020 Taiwan general election campaign, such as “Democracy is a failure,” which supports the view that democracy in Taiwan has failed to give the people good governance, positive international relationships, and a strong economy, and that democracy leads to moral decadence. “Democracy is a failure” was a constant narrative that played out during the presidential election campaign up until the COVID-19 pandemic.
  4. Information operations provide an opportunity to observe an adversary’s aims and goals. According to our research, the purposes of China’s information operations are not limited to elections. China aims at propagandizing its governance model and values; that is “China’s model is better than Western democracy.” However, unlike the previous view that China’s cyber army is only “cheerleading”, China’s information operations are also negative and aggressive. They amplify discord, harshly criticize certain ideologies, and fabricate conspiracies.
  5. According to our study, there are several personality types that are prone to consume disinformation. When disinformation triggers negative emotions and is circulated frequently in “chat apps” or by “word of mouth” among people with certain political affiliation, it has more impact than disinformation being widely discussed in mainstream media.
  6. Based on this research, we propose seven possible regulatory actions that may help to minimize the effects of foreign information operations, including greater transparency, blocking the collaboration between proxy actors and local actors, and implementing reasonable measures on social media platforms. However, it is a pity that Taiwan failed to successfully pass legal legislations aimed at increasing such transparency during the last election period.



Doublethink Lab focuses on mapping the online information operation mechanisms as well as the surveillance technology exportation and digital authoritarianism.

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Doublethink Lab

Doublethink Lab focuses on mapping the online information operation mechanisms as well as the surveillance technology exportation and digital authoritarianism.