Conspiracy theories swirl online in Taiwan after Black Hawk crash

Writer warns of attempts to spread disinformation about Black Hawk crash in lead-up to Taiwan election

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Scene of Black Hawk crash. (National Fire Agency photo)

Scene of Black Hawk crash. (National Fire Agency photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Conspiracy theories have begun to swirl on Taiwanese social media in the wake of the deadly crash of a UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter on Thursday (Jan. 2), prompting a Taiwanese writer to warn against rumors and disinformation.

On Thursday morning, a Black Hawk helicopter carrying several high-ranking military officers suddenly crashed in the mountainous district of Wulai in New Taipei City. Of the 13 passengers and crew on board, 8 lost their lives, including the Chief of the General Staff Shen Yi-ming (沈一鳴).

In response, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced a three-day halt to her campaign, and her main rival, Kuomintang (KMT) presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), announced some cancellations as well. Netizens soon began to spread false information online about the incident, prompting Taiwanese writer Nick Wang (苦苓) to warn of rumors and conspiracy theories and call on authorities to arrest those spreading disinformation.

In a Facebook post titled "There may be rumors or conspiracy theories about the Black Hawk incident," Wang called on the government to refute any rumors immediately and arrest those responsible for spreading them. "The country has already lost so much that it cannot afford to be hurt again," wrote Wang.

The Facebook page Just a Dullan (只是堵藍) uploaded a post stating that a user of the online message board PTT had posted an article titled "What's going on with the military? Is Tsai Ing-wen still fighting for reelection?" In the article, the author claims that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) held its campaign itinerary as usual after the Black Hawk crash.

The author wrote, "Will you still fight for reelection when the PLA downs an F-16?" However, President Tsai had in fact returned to the presidential office long before the Black Hawk accident and swiftly announced the cancelation of further campaigning scheduled for that afternoon and evening as well as the following two days.

Another post on PTT titled "Fate of high-level national defense officials unknown, spokesman post welcomes the dawn" claimed that instead of posting the latest information about the crash, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) Facebook page showed an image of a fighter jet rushing toward the dawn of a new year. Netizens suspected that the user who made the post was trying to sway public opinion against the government.

The original poster said that he had just wanted to express his feeling that the MND was providing information about the event too slowly. However, the MND had actually given a number of press conferences that day and provided constant updates.

A Tsai supporter on the day of the crash took to Facebook to write "Today is the anniversary of the Mainland's statement on 'one country, two systems. The highest-ranking commander of Taiwan's military was martyred less than 10 days before the election."

The supporter then went on to write, "The situation is very serious, it's hard to know if [the death of] Shen was an accident or if there was 'external intervention' in the whole incident. The powder has been added to the guns. The KMT-CCP attack has begun."

Huang Shih-hsiu (黃士修), the founder of the pro-nuclear energy organization Nuclear MythBusters (核能流言終結者), criticized the netizen for trying to sway public opinion immediately after the death of the chief of the general staff. Huang admonished the netizen to wait for the facts to come in and show more respect for the dead.

The pro-Taiwan independence Facebook page Yanwu 2.0 (行走的故事詩2.0/yanwu) uploaded a post titled "Black Hawk crash reminders." In the post, the author wrote: "In the next few days, it should be said that conspiracy theories will emerge or people with bad intentions will spread rumors."

The post went on to advise readers to follow information released by the MND and not spread unconfirmed rumors by the media or the public. It called on readers to analyze the information provided by the MND after the black box has been retrieved and the fuselage inspected.