TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Taiwanese influencer and an internet troll have been charged with spreading fake news about the director of Taiwan's representative office in Osaka, Japan, which ultimately leading him to commit suicide.
After thousands of Taiwanese became trapped in Japan by Typhoon Jebi and an earthquake in Hokkaido in September of last year, the representative office in Osaka faced a tsunami of criticism online for allegedly not providing sufficient assistance in terms of evacuations and accommodations.
In an apparent response to the scathing criticism, Su Chii-cherng (蘇啓誠), the director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in Osaka, committed suicide on Sept. 14.
On Monday (Dec. 2), the Taipei District Prosecutor's Office announced that it is formally charging the pro-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) "Green Camp Internet Army" leader Slow Yang (楊蕙如) and online troll Tsai Fu-ming (蔡福明) with spreading fake news about the Osaka office's handling of the disaster, ultimately compelling its director to commit suicide.
Prosecutors found that the IP address of a PTT account with the username "idcc" could be linked directly to Yang. Meanwhile, Tsai admitted that he was the person responsible for making the posts.
When questioned by police, Yang claimed that she had only shared her smartphone's Wi-Fi "hot spot" to provide Tsai with internet access. However, prosecutors suspect Yang was the "real sender" and that Tsai was just the "scapegoat."
Hsieh (left), Yang (right). (Images from Hsieh and Yang Facebook pages)
Yang denied that she had operated the "idcc" account. When police questioned Tsai, he claimed that he was the sole person to post content through the account and insisted it had nothing to do with Yang.
In May of this year, the Control Yuan submitted a report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which it stated that although it could not prove a direct link between "idcc" and Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), Taiwan's representative to Japan, the content of its posts closely matched public statements by Hsieh. The Control Yuan suggested that it investigate a possible link between "idcc" and Hsieh.
According to the police investigation, the "idcc" account indirectly caused the death of the diplomat.
During the Typhoon Jebi crisis, some web users began to criticize Hsieh's poor performance. Soon, a netizen identified as "idcc" uploaded posts that claimed the Osaka office was out of Hsieh's jurisdiction and sharply criticized its staff by writing, "the responsibility of the whole incident should be borne by the Osaka office."
When questioned by police, Yang argued that she was at a friend's party at the time the posts had been uploaded to PTT. Tsai said that because her "friend" Tsai had had no internet access, she shared her Wi-Fi "hot spot" with him, but she denied having accessed the "idcc" account.
Tsai claimed that he had posted the messages and said that Yang had had nothing to do with it. However, prosecutors suspect that Yang and Tsai are accomplices and filed charges of insulting a public office (侮辱公署罪) against both.
On Aug. 2 of this year, due to the storm swirling around Yang's alleged involvement in the fake news controversy, she was officially kicked out of the online message forum PTT. In addition, she was designated an "unwelcome figure."
Yang, who graduated with a bachelor's in history at National Cheng Kung University, once racked up NT$100,000 in credit card debt. However, after graduation, Yang made a fortune from a credit card point scheme, online auctions, and TV shopping gift certificates, eventually being dubbed by the media as the "card god" for her credit card prowess.
Screenshot from PTT showing Yang being listed as an "unwelcome figure."