Stealthy Cyber Army Hitting the Wall
By Liao Yuan-hao
China Times, July 24, 2021
Taiwan’s Olympic team athletes, bearing the expectations and blessings of the people during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, flew to Tokyo to participate in the games. However, President Tsai Ing-wen’s promise that “Taiwan’s Olympic national team athletes will all fly in business class” didn’t materialize. All the athletes on the chartered flight flew in economy class while ranking officials in business class.
That the officials are more important than athletes is a common phenomenon in Taiwan. This time it attracted special concerns for it was formally promised by President Tsai. Moreover, because the well-loved badminton world champion star Tai Tzu-ying posted in Instagram that “she missed traveling on EVA Air’s business class,” which immediately ignited public uproar. A lot of people took up the cudgels for the bad arrangement, and a lot of criticisms laid the blame on President Tsai on the internet. President Tsai, who seldom admitted mistakes, responded quickly, expressing regrets and apologies on Facebook. At the beginning, I thought it would be enough to make such a humble apology with the respect of a president. Unexpectedly, Tai later posted a photo of her hotel room on Instagram, causing dissatisfaction to many netizens. She was accommodated at a hotel with a 3.3-star rating by Google, while officials from the Sports Administration, Ministry of Education, stayed at a 4.6-star rating hotel.
For this series of incidents, the government can explain it well, defend it, or admit its mistakes and correct it. However, a large number of netizen soldiers did not focus on “supporting Tai Tzu-ying” or “supporting the national team,” but only wanted to support the president and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration.
Their words and deeds, juxtaposed with the Internet ecology and political atmosphere, are particularly worthy of attention. In particular, the cyber army tried twice to shift the focus of the incidents to serve as the government’s bodyguards, but to no avail, highlighting the limitations of the cyber army’s cognitive warfare.
The first wave of the cyber army’s attack was launched after Ms. Tai posted “I missed EVA Air’s business class.” There are those who dared to throw mud at the world-class badminton star, criticizing Ms. Tai's father, airing sour words. For example, they questioned how Mr. Tai raised her daughter and asked Ms. Tai why not sit in the captain's cabin, and if she has big head syndrome. How strange! Ms. Tai didn’t blame anyone for the seating, and why cannot she say something like missing business class? The cyber army, devoted to defending the government, simply concocted that her words attack government and hit back hard. Even a loyal dog is not so sensitive and submissive. However, such attacks neither hurt Ms. Tai nor well defended the government. In fact, The world’s badminton champ couldn't care less about the sour words of a small gang of cyber army. Tai’s fans and the public unleashed their anger toward the cyber army’s words and overwhelmed them. Immediately after President Tsai’s apology, the cyber army conceded defeat.
The second cyber army’s attack was even worse. Because the hotel where Tai stayed was rated only 3.3 stars, many netizens were whimsical and upgraded hotel reviews to 4.5 stars on the Internet. But a bunch of people who haven’t stayed in this hotel ran to scrutinize the reviews, which was obviously false information and true fraud. Google quickly responded and deleted the false reviews. The night orgy was actually as futile as drawing water with a bamboo basket. The netizens in Taiwan thought they were fun and creative, but they neither helped Tai nor made the government less embarrassed by “arranging cheap hotels for national athletes.”
In recent years, Taiwan’s cyber army operations have been very successful, but it has run rampant sometimes. Not only did they trampled on non-DPP members, they also helped Tsai win the presidential election by digging hole for her competitor William Lai, who now serves as vice president. They are dizzying with their successes, and dared to reach out to the international community. The World Health Organization (WHO), the New York Times, and even presidential-candidate Joe Biden fell prey to them. However, the cyber army’s remarks are at best useful in Taiwan’s domestic politics. Once it goes out of the country or gets involved in non-political issues, their efforts end in vain.
Taking the “business class chaos” as an example, if the cyber army really wanted to help our Olympic participants, they should have urged the government to make better arrangements, or raise funds for our athletes. What they did was really silly. They criticized Tai only because she exposed the government’s failure to keep its promise. They are not aiming at helping Tai, the Olympics, or Taiwanese athletes, but the DPP administration. Cyber armies have always fought “cognitive warfare” very well, they think they can turn black into white, but the “cognition” they want to shape is too far from the “real world.” This time they cannot manipulate which way the wind blows, and suffered vindictive backlash.
The cyber army’s remarks are contradictory to public opinion, the reality, and logic, so they have begun to blow up themselves.
The author is associate professor of law at National Chengchi University.