Man behind Taiwan's most shared pro-Han fake news site exposed

The Reporter exposes fake news site Mission, details how it survives Facebook's crackdowns on fake news and disinformation

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(Screenshot of Mission)

(Screenshot of Mission) (Taiwan News photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Of the plethora of fake news sites based in Taiwan, the pro-Han, pro-China site Mission, which nabbed the title of the "most-shared Facebook content" leading up to Taiwan's elections last November and in April of this year, is most recently under the spotlight for its intertwining relationship with the pro-unification New Party.

The Reporter, an independent, non-profit, Taiwan-based media outlet, investigated Mission's digital footprint and on Thursday (Dec. 26) revealed that Lin Cheng-guo (林正國), a member of the New Party who in a joint statement in 2018 called for reunification with China and the censoring of pro-independence propaganda, was involved in the operation of the site as an adviser.

In addition, Lin, a search engine optimization (SEO) and web expert, is said to have been assisting New Party spokesman and legislator-at-large candidate Wang Ping-chung (王炳忠) in managing his Facebook fan page for some time.

Resurrected with different, and provocative, domain names

Creators of fake news produce false memories and appeal to our emotions, and Mission is no exception, according to the report.

Mission contains a variety of content, from articles to psychological tests, but 90 percent is tagged as "news." It publishes zero original content and instead copies or rewrites news stories from other local media outlets, modifying them to render them false or biased to a great degree.

Many suspect that fake news articles spread on Facebook swayed the results of the 2018 election and fear that purveyors of fake news aimed to help Kuomintang (KMT) presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), a Beijing-friendly populist, win in 2020 will see their wish fulfilled.

A Facebook page analytics tool showed that Mission's articles were the most shared Taiwanese content on Facebook during one week of April, followed by the country's leading newspaper, the Liberty Times. However, the number of Mission's shares was five times that of Liberty Times.

To tackle fake news and stop the spread of misinformation, Facebook Taiwan has changed its algorithm to lower fake news sites' ranking in search results and thus reduce the number of people who see their posts. In October, Facebook filtered out all news feeds containing the domain names of Mission and other well-known content farms, including kknews and Hssszn.

However, within two weeks, Mission made a comeback with a new domain name, changed from "mission-tw.com" to "missiback.com," boasting about its swift return to social media as well as its continuous impact on society. Each time it has been banned by Facebook, it has responded with a new domain name to evade punishment, cycling through whatnews.cc, mission-hosti.com, tiksomo.com, and pplomo.com.

To adapt to counteractions by Facebook and Google, Mission is said to have added original but low-quality commentary pieces, videos, and pictures. It has also reposted a large amount of content from Chinese state media outlet hxdb.cn.

The man behind malicious 'Mission'

Mission has been found to have intentionally altered the text of articles from Taiwan's Apple Daily and other agencies to paint Democratic Progressive Party politicians and officials in a foolish light. It has also blamed Tsai Ying-wen's (蔡英文) government for the price fall of local agricultural products. Lin Cheng-guo is believed to have a wide reach, utilizing social media platforms to drive fake news.

When approached by the Reporter regarding the website's alleged media partnership with China, Lin declined to comment.

A Tamkang University graduate, Lin specializes in SEO, social media, web development, and e-commerce. He has introduced himself as a supporter of unification with China on his Weibo page, and he is affiliated with the youth wing of the New Party.

According to the Reporter, he is listed as a consultant for Fan-shin Integrated Marketing Co. Ltd., which is responsible for running Mission, and his wife, Liu Fang-yu (劉芳妤), is registered as the head of the company.

Wang Ping-chung said he had no knowledge of the website until recently and denied that the New Party was involved in the operation of the fake news site.

"It's a smear campaign," Wang said, adding that the "New Party doesn't even have money to back an online campaign." Wang also considers himself the victim of cyberbullying due to his fan page once having been suspended after being reported to Facebook.