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Politics Possible Podcast: How Taiwan’s Young Techies Fight Political Disinformation

Politics Possible with Evan Feigenbaum
Thought Leader: Evan Feigenbaum
July 5, 2024

Politics Possible is project from Evan Feigenbaum, a former American diplomat, and Alena Popova, a Russian oppositionist, to rekindle shattered faith in the power of politics and navigate the promise and perils of technology. Young politicians, entrepreneurs, and technologists should join forces — this podcast is their call to action.

In January, Taiwan elected a new president but there were three deeper stories behind the headlines: voters were bombarded with a stream of disinformation to influence their views and votes; Taiwan’s techies countered by using generative AI to publicize and fight this manipulation; and young voters were more influential than ever before.

Puma Shen and Jason Hsu—a current legislator and a former one, both deeply experienced with technologies and tech-enabled politics—join us to discuss what the world can learn from Taiwan.


Evan: It’s Politics Possible, a podcast about the unconventional forces and technologies reshaping conventional politics, and a call to action for young politicians, entrepreneurs, and tech whizzes to fight for a better future. I’m Evan Feigenbaum, a former American diplomat who advised two Secretaries of State and a former Secretary of the Treasury.

Alena: And I’m Alena Popova, a Russian opposition politician and women’s rights activist. I ran for office and was oppressed,surveilled, and repeatedly detained by Vladimir Putin’s regime. I’ve worked in politics, technology, law, and civic action.

Evan: And I’ve also had to deal with some of the world’s dark forces, but in the very different world of geopolitics and diplomatic negotiations. We come from two parallel universes, and our countries have become strategic adversaries.

Alena: But we’re still passionate about what politics can do. And we think young people around the world need to learn from each other to secure a democratic and open future.

Evan: Until the 1980s, Taiwan had an authoritarian political system dominated by a single party, the Kuomintang or KMT. But today, Taiwan is a raucous democracy with a divided government. The executive branch is controlled by one party, the Democratic Progressive Party or DPP. The legislature is controlled by two opposition parties, the KMT and the Taiwan People’s Party or TPP.

Evan: In today’s episode, we’re talking to Puma Shen and Jason Hsu, a current DPP legislator and a former KMT one—both of them deeply experienced with technology, and especially with the role of tech in politics.

Alena: What makes this discussion unique is that Taiwan has been bombarded with a stream of disinformation, most of it orchestrated by Chinese actors associated with the Chinese Communist Party, the CCP. These campaigns use videos, bots, deepfakes, and also more conventional methods, to shape opinion in Taiwan and influence people’s views and votes.

Newsclip 1: “Ahead of Taiwan’s presidential elections, there’s been a striking increase in disinformation attacks targeting the island, which the government and analysts attribute to China.”

Newsclip 2: “Shen has been warning Taiwanese people for the past five years. He founded Kuma Academy to be able to train citizens to fight against Chinese disinformation. ‘It has been my life goal. I mean, to really stop the disinformation about increasing election related fake news.’”

Newsclip 3: “’Fake news I feel is really becoming more and more like real news, and I think that’s a pretty scary thing.’” “’It does affect us, like, affects our life and the political climate.’”

Newsclip 4: “‘I used to be one of those sitting on the streets protesting and going against the machine. I’m always outside of the castle hoping to burn the castle and throw weapons inside. And yet this time I’m going in. I’m hoping to change with my entrepreneur’s spirit.’”

Alena: Puma and Jason talk to us about the scale of this challenge, how it has affected each of them personally, as politicians, and how they have sought to fight back.

Evan: They also talk about young people, what inspires Taiwan’s young voters, how tech does or doesn’t reach them, and what lessons Taiwan has for others around the world. Jason also talks a little bit about crypto, something he’s passionate about. In Taiwan, there’s a growing enthusiasm for crypto because it offers a creative way to keep dirty money out of politics, if it can be traced through blockchain.

Alena: And I chat with them about what I’ve experienced in the very different context of Russia so we can compare and contrast.

Evan: Alright. So, Puma, Jason, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

Evan: I wanted to get us into the disinformation a little bit. I’m wondering first, if you could help define the scope of the challenge, how big is the challenge in terms of what China is directing at the Taiwanese public, at Taiwan’s politics. How much of it is targeted interference? How much of it is just blanketing Taiwan and Taiwanese voters with misinformation, disinformation? How much of it is being done by, let’s say, generative AI, to increase the effectiveness and the reach of it?

 The first thing here is that China is really capable of spreading disinformation here in Taiwan, and both online and offline.

Puma: So online, it could go through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, etcetera. And on the ground, they could, be asking agents to chat in front of the temples or, the market, to try to spread tons of this information here. For example, if you ask Taiwanese people if they want to resist, if China invades Taiwan, it’s usually like 50 percent of Taiwanese people saying that they want to fight. They want to resist.

Puma: 20 pecent, they say, I want to surrender. And there’s always like 20 to 30 percent of Taiwanese citizens who have no opinion, and that’s the groups of people that I say who are apolitical, and these people are the target audience of China. So roughly speaking, I would say three million to four million citizens right now they are really targeting, so they try to gather their private information. A brief example here is that during the elections last year, Google actually removed the channels from China, 200 channels per day.

Puma: So it’s not 200 videos, it’s 200 channels per day. So that’s the capability for China to generate all these videos, and it’s like impossible for anyone to have that huge scale of this information generated by an entity. So I would say that generative AI plays such an important role here.

Puma: It’s so easy right now for them to generate videos and articles online. And they could easily, using AI voices to read the articles. And then convert it into videos by inserting some graphs and photos and put it on YouTube. And when they share all these YouTube links on Facebook or on Twitter, there’s no way for Twitter and Facebook to block the YouTube URL.

Puma: And then they’re getting better and better right now because, according to our study, they have started to use all this generative AI stuff since 2019. But they’re not really good in English or any other language. They’re only good in Mandarin. However, after especially 2023, we could see that in Australia, in Canada, in the U.S., they’re much better generating all these, like, articles in English, on Twitter, or right now on X, because it’s so easy for them to use the local language with generative AI.

Puma: And sometimes, when we argue with someone on X or on Facebook, previously, they could be patriots from China, but right now they could be AI, and when you argue with them, you’re actually training them, so you’re getting more and more, like, troll like bots, and they look like, we call it “little pinks,” but they’re like patriots, and they could be bots, and they’re like everywhere, arguing with you, wasting your time.

Puma: And that’s the scale of information warfare that we’re facing right now here in Taiwan.

Evan: Can you personalize that? Did they, have they, come after you specifically either in the context of the campaign or now that you’re a legislator?

Puma: My god, like every week. So, the PLA, the army there in China, they call me “Nazi” I think more than 50 times. And they all have their own political talk shows. They also ask their Chinese journalists here, who reside here in Taiwan, to actually participate in some of the political talk shows to provide a script that tries to denounce me.

Puma: So for me, it’s like two to three articles and videos per week right now coming from China, saying that I’m the one who is “going to trigger warfare,” that I “support Taiwanese independence.” I would be the one they want to punish at the very beginning.

Puma: And they recently, just last week, they called me a “CIA agent.” I still do not know how they got that connection. I know no one from the CIA.

Alena: Oh, that’s the kind of thing that they use in my country too. Like our authorities, they always use propaganda stuff that if you are in any position, you’re “working for the CIA.”

Alena: If you are in a position, for sure you are a “spy” and they are very effective in terms of that—like, people believe it. What about Taiwan? Do people believe in that?Puma: Yeah, especially people who are, like, pan-Blue [KMT and TPP] supporters. I actually tease myself, saying that I’m a “CIA baby” right now.

Puma: And that’s the only way—to use humor to counter that kind of disinformation. Because, like, all these conspiracy theories, they’re coming out every day, every week. And you, there’s no way that you could keep pace with all this disinformation.

Evan: Do you feel like there’s patterns to what Puma is describing for China, particularly the way they’re using AI?

Totally the same that Russia does with Ukraine. So, there’s the same patterns and they learn from each other. All this propaganda stuff, it’s very interesting because they use the best experiences that they learned before and then they spread it and to different countries.

Puma: Yeah, I was in Ukraine last year and I found out that there are, like, some disinformation against Taiwan actually spread by Russia in Kyiv, but there’s no Taiwanese people over there to really counter that. And the same things happen here in Taiwan.

Puma: China generated lots of this information against Ukraine. But there are only like, I think, less than maybe 30 Ukrainians here in Taiwan. So they do not have the voices, they do not have the power, to counter that. So that’s why I really advocate for the civil society in different countries to collaborate together and with each other.

Puma: Because just like you said, Russia and China, or even, like, other countries, they collaborate together to doing all these attacks. They’re learning from each other. And democratic countries, I think, should be allies. People should work together, and that’s the only way we could fight authoritarian states.

Evan: Jason, one of the things you’re doing is working with Taiwan AI Labs. I had seen some work that Taiwan AI Labs was doing to use actually generative AI to produce counter messaging.

Evan: And so it’s messaging against messaging, all of it AI enabled, either through AI-enabled applications or using AI to develop strategies and messages. So is the solution technical or is it more human?

Jason: It’s actually both. We built a platform called Infodemic. During the COVID period we analyzed and followed tens of thousands of accounts that are considered hubs of the fake information, or disinformation if you will. And we actually found out that they have consistent behavior that is spreading misinformation. First of all, during a certain period of time, they would use similar phrases that would attack similar groups, or they would pretend they were Taiwanese.

Jason: And then sending hate messages to other groups or attacking fellow Taiwanese. And we did a big sampling of that and then we used AI to train those data. And we came up with a type of algorithm that would basically predict when certain messages or texts are tweeted, whether it is by a real person or it’s by a machine.

Jason: This behavior has become so rampant. It’s almost autonomous now. It’s like an autonomous weapon and it is being used and launched at a speed and a scale that is unprecedented. It is 24-hours now and operated by machine. So it’s no longer human. We are constantly need to deal with how to decipher this fake news and misinformation.

Jason: What’s even worse now is the deepfake stuff: your voice, your video, and your images. So anything that could be used and be enhanced through AI is now being used for that particular purpose. So we will be seeing more and more of that. And if you log on to our website, Infodemic, you will see a lot of examples.

Jason: And this is not just happening in the political arena. Also, the CCP’s fake information or disinformation campaign targets our industrial cyber. They are particularly targeting semiconductor companies, and then they try to launch fake information or misinformation campaigns on those companies. So it’s getting more and more severe as we speak.

Jason: And also the major platform we Taiwanese internet users use is mostly Facebook. Facebook uses the type of content moderation that is powered by humans. And sometimes they have no ability to tell whether it is a machine-powered messaging, or it is human-powered messaging. And so it’s becoming less and less obvious that you will be able to read a real feed from friends or other types of real people.

Jason: In other words, we are now living in our own echo chambers more and more. So it is very important that we are aware of the type of information that we’re reading, whether it’s real or not.

 Have you been surprised that the deepfakes haven’t gone further? We were talking, there have been a couple of elections around the world: There was a case in Slovakia, there was a case in Argentina as well, where they literally had deepfakes that faked either the voices of the candidates or in some other way were able to generate fake information that affected the election outcome. And so I’m actually surprised it hasn’t gone further.

Evan: You can imagine a scenario in which deepfakes are used to put words in the mouth of [President] Lai Ching-te, or words in the mouth of, for that matter, Han Kuo-yu, the Speaker of the Parliament on the other side. So, not just accusing you of things but actually generating deepfakes that appear to put words in your mouth.

Evan: Are there things that surprise you? In that it hasn’t gone further, or that it’s been more restrained than it could have been? What do you expect in the next three years? That the sky is the limit for this stuff, and there’s just no way to restrain it?

Puma: It’s trending actually right now but it hasn’t been really applied to the election. And one of the reasons why is that, because we’re facing lots of attacks from China, and China loves to use real video—so for example, they try to hack your phone, hack your laptop, and make sure that if there’s any recording, any video that you could use. And then they manipulate that video with some false information.

Puma: Because for them, it’s much easier. And then they do not need to generate the video. And then someone claims that, hey, “it’s fake.” They love to use that real video, actually. But I would say that because in the future, it would be very difficult for us to differentiate what’s AI video from what’s real video.

Puma: And even the social media platforms right now ask us to say that, hey, this is the AI generated video if you’re uploading one. But it doesn’t mean that everyone would comply with that regulation, let alone the fake accounts, right?

Puma: Even if they’re deleted, because they violate the regulations from the social media platforms, it doesn’t do any harm to them. I would definitely say that for the next few years Generative AI videos would pose a huge danger, I mean to democracy.

Alena: For sure, yeah. If you saw that very popular AI-generated Russian girl who is talking about how amazing China is, why all Russian and Chinese people should be friends, and why Chinese people should visit Russia and Russians should visit China.

Alena: It was very popular because it was a real Russian girl, but everything she said was generated by AI. A real girl, but everything she was talking about wasn’t real.

Alena: And it’s really scary because if you are campaigning, let’s say you are against like this major power, they can use anything they want against you. And how can you prove to your audience that it’s not true, even if you put this “fake” label somewhere. So people may, as you pointed out earlier, believe in it.

Evan: Can either of you, can you give an example of a specific disinformation campaign or tactic that targeted you? I know Puma will have examples, but Jason I’m wondering whether there are examples that apply directly to you too, just make it real.

Jason: When I was working on the LGBT legislation, I received a lot of hate messages. Some of those hate messages were actually generated by fake images of myself spreading hate messages about myself to the other audiences. And to me, that was really surprising—how the opposing side, or the opponents, would use it in such a way.

Jason: And that would spread among your support groups. And those who are affected most are not my political opponents but my support groups. They are using a fake, or the machine generated imaging or videos, against yourself, by yourself. They use it among themselves, and your support groups too.

Jason: And so when I saw those videos, and I was like, “Oh this wasn’t me.” But I had to explain to people that it was a fake video and it was very easy to detect. But most people, for the sake of creating sensation, don’t bother to clarify it. Also your political opponents take advantage of that too.

Jason: So it creates this divide within the society that can be used or taken advantage of. So, to me, that’s an extreme case of me generating a hate message [supposedly] by myself and against myself. Initially, it worked quite well against me, but then, after I started clarifying it and exposing it, they stopped.

Alena: We all know this first rule of propaganda: if you spread fakes, people will believe the first video, the first information, they noticed and that they saw. And it’s very hard to explain to them that it’s not true, because usually this is how it works.

 So they see it and they believe it the first place. And then it’s very hard to spend a lot of resources to change their opinion.

Alena: So do you have any tricks or advice on how to do it?

Jason: Yeah, I think you would just have to confront the content and then put it out there, and then I think go with your technology savvy support group and have them distribute the messages to other groups.

Jason: For me personally, those fake videos work best on less educated people, and also people who are those in not a technology savvy group. So once you put it out there, you clarify it, and it’s easier [to fight]. But you also need to do some footwork in the community, and at least to communicate effectively that this is fake content.

Evan: So then you’re back to youth, right? Because older voters are probably less technically savvy, okay? And so I don’t know if they’re the target but they may be more susceptible to it.

Alena: So I have a solution: you can print it and just put up flyers on, I don’t know, shops or kiosks. That’s how we did it in Russia.

Alena: So if you are 65-plus and you are not interacting with all this sophisticated technology, you don’t know how to use it, we will give you a flyer with an explanation.

Alena: But I want to support Puma, because he said that usually it works with using humor. And so if you can’t combat it, if you can’t fight back with a lot of serious explanation about what was wrong with this, you can just use jokes or humor to just destroy it.

Evan: But so Puma, what did you do? Did you hold a press conference? Or do you use a technical counter to a technical problem? Or where you pass out flyers on streets of Taipei?

Puma: I actually posted on, I think, on Facebook threads saying that I’m right now a “CIA baby.” And then there are like lots of, like, especially younger generations that are really good at drawing stuff. So they actually have a portrait of me that looks like a very cute “CIA baby.” And it became a joke. So that’s my way—to use, like, humor over rumor.

Evan: Yeah.

Alena: Can I ask about money? I want to ask Jason this: you were named as the first “crypto Congressman,” and there a lot of discussion that I have with Evan about the use of crypto, especially for the political campaigns. Can you tell us more? Is it, like, a new and very effective way to fundraise any money for your political campaign. And can you do it in Taiwan?

Jason: I got to know Vitalik Buterin from Ethereum, and he and I started talking about how I wanted to build Taiwan as a crypto nation and blockchain island. At the time I looked at blockchain as a tool that could provide transparency and, as well, the immutable record of the vote, of the voting system. And crypto could be a way to also to develop as a new political donation form.

Jason: At that time, I became the first legislator to receive political campaign donations through Bitcoin. Every single donation is recorded on blockchain—and how the money is used is also very clearly recorded on blockchain as well. I wanted to do this because the political donations have been very opaque in Taiwan.

Jason: And there’s always a lot of companies donating to legislators or candidates in order to lobby for certain legislative bills, but I think most of the general public are unaware of how the money is used and why certain legislators make certain decisions. So I feel like blockchain and crypto could be a good form to develop those mechanisms.

Jason: And indeed, I think some other legislators have started to follow. And we’ve seen more and more legislators adopt this mechanism. And I hope it becomes a norm.

Alena: Yeah. Why I asked that question is that because we, in my country, and when I ran for office in 2021, it was very hard to fundraise. And some candidates or some political activists, because we were banned from all the regular sources of fundraising any funds or any money, we had to use different ways.

Alena: So crypto is a way to do it if you’re highly controlled by your authoritarian government, or in some other countries. So you have this understanding that China is somewhere around, and crypto may be the way to be more independent.

Jason: Yeah, absolutely. We not only talk about crypto, but we also talk about building AI as a sovereign power, because we realized that in the future, the country’s competitiveness will be decided by compute capabilities. And with Taiwan being a technology powerhouse with TSMC, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation, making advanced chips to power AI, we should think very soberly about how we can best harness the technology power we have.

Jason: And also, in thinking about China’s aggression in relation with what crypto could do, I think in some ways that if China blockades Taiwan, we need to think about ways, how do we move our capital around, and Bitcoin is a great avenue that we could match against traditional currency or fiat currency, and Taiwan has that advantage. So that’s why I advocate Taiwan to be a crypto island, to attract global crypto entrepreneurs, as well as technologies to build public blockchain or other type of technologies that could develop, to train, for transactions that are transparent and as well as traceable. You’ll be surprised to find out that Taiwan is the fifth largest money laundering destination. There’s a lot of dark money coming through, in and out. But if we could use blockchain to trace that, those irregular transactions, I think we could completely improve that as well.

Alena: Stay with us as we talk more with Jason and Puma about politics in Taiwan. We’ll discuss young people and what motivates them, how to reach voters, and how to inspire support. They have some interesting perspectives on that, and on the age divide between the support bases of the two major parties.

Alena: The future is now. And we all know that this younger generation, they will vote in the near future, or they will become our supporters. How can we explain to them that they should develop some mechanisms or techniques, or some countermeasures to fight back against these misinformation campaigns, against the propaganda?

Alena: How can we educate them? Where can we find these tools and instruments to spread it within these communities?

Puma: I think that’s exactly what we’re doing right now. But it’s pretty, it’s a little difficult because if we’re only talking about media literacy, I think that’s easy because, from elementary school and middle school, they teach lots of stuff about media literacy.

Puma: You need to check the time, the timing of the report, check the reporter, and from which media. There are, like, so many ways to establish a certain media literacy. But right now, we’re facing disinformation or conspiracy theories. Not just information coming out from nowhere—it’s actually coming out from authoritarian states and strategically.

Puma: They try to spread it and try to pinpoint our vulnerabilities. They know that you love cute animals, so they send cute animal videos to you. And when you fall into the trap, they have the Facebook fan pages, the YouTube channels that follow up. And coincidentally, they will have some political messages within, and try to denounce other democratic countries.

Puma: if you do not really know that kind of strategy, even if you have a certain level of media literacy, I don’t think there’s a way for the general public to face that challenge. So I think that’s why, from Kuma Academy, we’re trying to teach and trying to let the people know what the tactics are from China or any other authoritarian states. We will also take Russia as an example, what they did in Ukraine.

So I think the key point here, for me, is that it’s more like you’re fighting fraud. If you’re telling people that, hey, this is the new technology, these are the narratives coming out from the fraudster groups, and if people realize that, then next time when they pick up the phone, and hear of something that you’ve already told them, they will not fall into that kind of trap from the fraudster.

Puma: So psychologically, we need to build up that kind of resilience, because you are not just facing information—you’re facing information gathered, collected, divided, manipulated by a group of people who are hack savvy, who know which groups of people are more vulnerable than the others. They have the money, they have resources, they have all these channels to deliver messages.

Evan: When you went to Ukraine last year, presumably people asked you about Taiwan’s experience. And then at some point they must have said to you, “what are your top three lessons from Taiwan that you think could apply in Ukraine?” What are the top three things that people can learn from Taiwan around the world?

Puma: I think, at that time, the experience I shared is more about how the local rumors or conspiracies could be spread by local agents. And because according to our experience here in Taiwan, for each election, China only needs to affect, let’s say, 1 percent or 2 percent of Taiwanese citizens, that would be super effective if you really want to make some changes for the election.

Puma: So how they spread all these local rumors, how they find the agents, how they’re doing the money laundering and trying to bring the money for the interest of certain groups of people, and how they infiltrate into the religious groups, the local elites, I think that’s the experience that we’ve really learned from China.

Puma: And I have to say that China is much better at spreading disinformation on the ground compared to what they did online. But they’re much better online because of generative AI. But the thing that I really learned from Ukraine is that, I asked them, you must have someone who supports Russia and who are pro-Russia?

Puma: And how to deal with that, because it’s your democratic countries that value free speech. And we have some cases here in Taiwan, we have tons of groups of people who are pro-China and it’s their free speech if they want to spread the disinformation coming from China. So how to deal with that I think is quite crucial.

Puma: But I found out that, when I asked them last year, they said that they faced that issue in, let’s say, before 2014, before the Crimean moment. And after that, most people realized that Russia is posing a danger to Ukraine. But we, here in Taiwan, we do not have that moment. And that’s why we’re such a divided country.

Puma: We still have the groups of people who really think that China is rising. That China the U.S. and Japan and India, they’re trying to bully China.

Puma: So in that situation, and we’re also the country that pretty much values free speech, I think we’re facing a different situation compared to Ukraine.

Puma: We lost our 2014 moment.

Alena: You know I have an example, like from my own experience. As the war started, I had, and I still have, a lot of voters—because I told you that I ran for office in 2021. It was my last campaign. It was in parliamentary elections as an opposition candidate.

Alena: It was very hard. But anyway, because I was fighting for women’s rights and women’s issues, I have, and I had, a lot of voters who are women. And mostly they’re very supportive to the current regime, to the current authorities, because usually women don’t want to change anything very rapidly. They are afraid of violence.

They’re afraid of everything. So they are good for the stability [from the standpoint of the regime]. And when the war started, I got this question, as you just pointed out: how to deal with this, how to change their opinion about our current authorities, about this crazy war, and how to encourage them to be on the right side? And what I want to highlight is that it was very effective to use social media because I started to talk to them.

Alena: We got this, joined up groups with the most conservative women and the most liberal women. And we started to discuss the future: what is the future for us? do we want violence? do we want to be guilty? do we want people to be killed in favor of this regime?

Alena: It was very effective. I told Evan that many women they are still with me. They know that I was labeled by our Ministry of Justice as a “foreign agent,” and they know that our propaganda spreads all these rumors about me as a “spy” and, like you [Puma], that I am the “CIA agent” to the most conservative audience. But they are still with me. They truly believe that the war should end.

Alena: And it was a good lesson from the Ukrainian community, because some Ukrainian women, they are with us. In these dialogues it was very hard for them, and it’s still very hard for them to be with us. But they are there, and they try to not just blame all the people from Russia for this but to encourage people from Russia, or Russians, or mostly Russian women not to be afraid to be against the current regime.

Alena: And in your case, it may be very effective if you organize some groups like that via social media, because you said that you have your livestream every week, that you have your stream: maybe you can use it to help your local audience to be more on your side. Alena: Jason, what do you think about that?

Jason: Yeah, I think it’s everywhere, right? It’s becoming more and more like a common practice now that not only we’re becoming a victim but we’re also becoming an attacker when it comes to misinformation and or autonomous misinformation campaigns. So it’s important to realize that this change of agency could be identical and also could be used in both ways.

Jason: And so to educate our constituents, there needs to be constant communication with respect to how to establish trust between you and your voters. And what’s really drilled down to the core of issues is the topics that you try to communicate, not to fall into [the trap] that certain supporter groups will be hijacked by a certain type of information when it’s becoming too overtly sensational.

Jason: I think those are very important. It’s almost impossible to stop this. But what we could do the best is to inform our community that this is something in every, in everyone’s responsibility to defend, to safeguard. and to be aware of the situation that we might be dealing with. It’s no longer the government’s responsibility.

Jason: It’s everyone’s responsibility to check on each other, to see whether the content source is valid and to develop a trust community that can help us do so.

Evan: We’ll be back in a moment with more. We’ll ask whether polarization in Taiwan is making it harder to push back against disinformation, or to fashion a united response to the challenges Taiwan faces. And as the only person in this episode who hasn’t actually run for elective office, I’ll ask Jason, Puma, and my co-host Alena about making that big leap.

Evan: But political polarization presumably makes this worse. Taiwan, much like the United States or other places—very politically divided.

Evan: I’m American. It’s a 50/50 country at this point. We’re about to have a very close presidential election, for example, and Taiwan has divided government too. So on the one hand, you could say polarization is a sign of health because people are using politics to express themselves. But on the other, that level of polarization is an enabling environment for disinformation and everything that we’ve been talking about.

Evan: Because the more polarized you are, the more you’re prepared, and willing, and able to believe the worst things about your political opposition. Polarization itself is unhealthy, but contestation is healthy because it means it plays out in the political arena as opposed to, let’s say, violence.

Evan: But it’s also an unbelievably fertile environment for disinformation. And it’s not clear what you do about that because Taiwan looks like it’s set to be polarized for a long time. And so this is something you’re going to just have to contend with. But the only way to contend with it is actually to have some kind of unity about the problem, and about the solutions across party lines when the divisions between the parties are what causes the problem, or at least enables it in the first place.

Evan: So I don’t know what you do about that. Is there, in a polarized environment, is it possible to forge a unity to fight against this stuff or not really?

Jason: I think it would be extremely hard. And because of the nature of polarization, that feeds the polarized nature on both sides. I say that to reach a consensus in this type of environment, it’s nearly impossible.

Jason: But I think to create a healthy discourse where the two opposing sides can fairly express their opinions—and then to find a common ground for the general public to be informed—I think it’s extremely important. And I haven’t been able to find an answer myself how to develop such a discourse platform.

Jason: And certainly, I think, because of politics, it’s also about winning. It’s a zero-sum game, which makes it extremely difficult. In the case of Taiwan, I will have to say, when we deal with China, we need to stand in unity. There are differences or ideological nuances that the two parties hold, but I think when it comes to dealing with an enemy, that we need to stand in unity.

Jason: So this type of thing would then create less vulnerability when China tries to separate our society.

Evan: Puma, you’re late to this, right? This is your first election that you just fought. So you went from being outside to deciding to, as we say in American English, throw your hat into the ring and get into the arena. So, could you just each maybe talk a little bit about your journey in politics? What made you decide to jump in?

Evan: And Jason, now that you’re out of it, do you miss it? Puma you’re in it just for a few months. Right? A few months in terms of since you got elected. So just talk about your journeys a little bit.

Puma: Yeah. It’s only been four months but it feels like four years for me. I’ve been advocating at Kuma on cybersecurity for years. So I’m pretty much in civil society and I’m still teaching in a university. I’m still right now, the associate professor, so I still need to teach every Friday and Saturday right now.

Puma: So for me, I’m in politics for life. It’s great if you could be in the game to make some decisions, to try to negotiate with others to make sure that human rights could be protected, to make sure that the national security could be established. These are great things, but when they asked me last, I think it’s in August or September, I actually refused at the very beginning because I have lots of stuff like going on there in DoubleThink Lab, tracing this information from China. I had just founded Kuma Academy for two years for civil defense. I’m also teaching open source intelligence. I think it’s quite important that we can establish our own intelligence network.

Puma: And also, having more people who really want, who are resilient—who know how to stop bleeding, how to help others, and to have the awareness of the possible warfare. So I refused [to run for office] in the very beginning, and was thinking that I should devote more here in civil society. And I was also vice president of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

Puma: But the president had we have right now, he was the candidate last year, and he told me that for the next eight years national security and national defense will be the top, the most important topic, and they really need someone who has expertise. He said that they really need someone in the government or in the Congress who could help them on this issue. We had lunch and dinner several times and eventually I said yes, and that’s why I’m here.

Puma: I didn’t expect that kind of tension, because they’re like, the political tension is like so high right now. And I didn’t know that I would be the target, not just for China but for the opposing party too. So that’s why I’m every day on the news. But most of the time I’m negative, so they’re trying to, they try to attack me like every day. It’s very disturbing, but I guess that’s politics.

Evan: So Jason, you’re from the opposing party.

Jason: I am out of it now, but I miss it in a sense that to be in the arena, I think, gives you a sense of responsibility that you, that decisions you make can alter the course of history. And for me, since I’ve been in politics, I have been increasingly aware of vulnerability in the global state.

Jason: And I’ve worked on a blockade wargaming simulation that basically looked at a whole-of-nation approach in dealing with China’s aggression. And obviously cybersecurity is a big piece of it. Energy security is also a very big component. And all the other things that I think Taiwan needs and people are grappling with but are underprepared. These are worrisome.

Jason: And I applaud what Puma is doing with the Kuma Academy to bring up the awareness of the civilian sector. And we need to do more on that. And that’s why I think that the three different parties should stand in unison when it comes to national security in dealing with China. And I feel that’s what would drive me back to politics, to really think through what type of defense strategy Taiwan needs, how do we develop asymmetrical capabilities, and develop a whole-of-nation approach to bolster our resilience for the island.

Jason: That’s something that I think I will keep working on, whether in an academic research field or going back to politics one day. So that’s just going to be my main focus for the years to come.

Alena: Do you have any role models for why are you in politics?

Puma: Interesting. I have never thought of, I never think of that kind of question.

Puma: I don’t think I have the role model, but I love anime and comics. And then I like several comics that talk about politics in Japan. And there are, like, several figures there that I pretty much admire. And there’s one actually who, I think he’s from the gangsters, but he has his passion for the whole politics and he really wants to make changes. I think that’s fascinating but that’s in the comic books.

Alena: Jason?

Jason: I think for me, it’ll be Winston Churchill. I think I learned a lot from just seeing such a strong-willed person take leading the country through a time of turmoil. And I think we need that type of leader at this time of crisis, and to mobilize the country, and to unite the country.

Jason: And I hope we will stand together regardless of different parties’ ideology.

Evan: So, there’s four people in this conversation and I’m the only one who hasn’t run for office: Puma’s run for office, Jason’s run for office, and Alena’s run for office. Somebody said to me once, not so long ago, something like, given how polarized so many countries are and how much gridlock there is, this is what an elderly woman here in the United States who worked in politics, she said, “if I had to do it again, maybe I wouldn’t do politics. I would do something like philanthropy and I would take money and invest it in healthcare or diseases.”

Evan: But all three of you went into politics and I’m the only one who didn’t go into electoral politics. But as the only person in this conversation who hasn’t, tell me, or tell a young person, why should they jump into the political arena as the solution to problems. If some young person says, I’m thinking of getting into politics what do you tell them about why they should do it?

 Okay. I would say if you can’t run away from it, you better embrace it. And the best way to embrace it is to be a part of it.

Puma: I think that’s very true. Every time, when I talk to, especially to the students, I tell them that if you do not really participate, if you do not really join the game, you’ll be led by some bad people over there because they’re more active.

Puma: They really want to mess up with the politics. And then you need to come in and you need to neutralize that part. I think it was, like, several years ago, someone told me that if you’re thinking that you are the only one right now who could do this, then you definitely need to do that.

Puma: If there are, like, someone else who could work better, maybe you could help them. You can just play your own role—for me, like being a professor or in civil society. But if the timing is there, and there’s no one else that could, doing the stuff that you’re doing, then you need to step in, step out there.

Alena: Yes. I just, I love politics. I think that politics is the best way to have any experience you want. And we have a lot of people, by the way—and students who are with us for this podcast, we will have an episode with them—and we discussed that issue. Do you really nowadays, especially if you’re from authoritarian countries, do you really need to be in politics? Do you have any chance to be very effective knowing what’s going on over there?

Alena: And many young people, they just disagree with this—it’s a weakness that means that “no, I can’t do anything.” But for sure you can. And we had this episode with Pita {Limjaroenrat, the former leader of Thailand’s Move Forward Party]. He was amazing. He said, “You know what? Politics is everywhere. It’s just a way you can express yourself for the better future and don’t stop. Don’t give up and be in it. Just participate.” And I totally agree with him.

Evan: So you guys are making me want to run for office! I should declare my candidacy for something after this podcast.

Alena: You definitely should!

Alena: So, thank you. Thank you so much for your time.

Evan: Yeah, hey guys, we’re really grateful. Thanks for your time.

Evan: You know, Alena, I’ve got to ask you something. Ultimately, this is a show about commonalities across the world and also learning across borders, and communities, and boundaries. And when I heard Puma especially talking about disinformation campaigns, how to use technical and human means to respond to them—but also the fact that he had visited Ukraine to share experiences between Taiwan and Ukraine with disinformation campaigns—it made me think not just that we’re on to something with this podcast but also that this has got to resonate with people all around the world: the importance of learning.

And you surely must have faced this in terms of regime-sponsored disinformation campaigns from Moscow, and also what we’re seeing in Europe now.

Evan: It seems to me that you alone are proof positive of what the rationale for the show is. And it was so interesting in that episode, don’t you think?

Alena: Yeah, I wish I had known those guys 10 years ago, maybe 14 years ago, when I ran for office in 2011. It was very hard because of propaganda. The authorities spread so many crazy rumors about me and I didn’t know how to fight back.

Alena: And especially the use of social media to say that I worked for, that I was “hired by CIA agents” and I am “a very prominent CIA agent.” And I ran for office from Siberia—and for the people in Siberia, it’s a huge region in Russia far away from Moscow, for them to be “a CIA agent” means to be “a national traitor.”

Alena: Jason and Puma, they talked a lot about like how our generation can cooperate with each other, to learn from each other, to fight back to use these new technologies in our favor to be stronger.

Evan: Keep fighting, keep pushing. That’s the lesson. And learn across borders.

Alena: If you enjoyed this episode, there is more Politics Possible to come. Check us out at, listen on the major podcast platforms, and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Evan: Tune in soon for episodes on everything from deepfakes to crypto, rock music and politics, and how students around the world are fighting against dictatorships.

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