Humour Over Rumour

The world can learn a lot from Taiwan’s approach to fake news.

There are numerous reasons why Taiwan has handled the pandemic so successfully. It got burned by Sars in 2003, for one thing, and subsequently developed a robust pandemic playbook. It also had an established culture of mask-wearing. But what's most remarkable about Taiwan’s response is its strategy of developing what Audrey Tang, the digital minister, has described as “nerd immunity”.

Inoculating people from misinformation and tackling the “infodemic” are key to fighting the coronavirus. Tang, Taiwan’s first transgender government minister and a self-described “civic hacker”, has done this by fostering digital democracy: using technology to encourage civic participation and build consensus.

Tang has also quashed faked news by implementing a 2-2-2 “humour over rumour” strategy. A response to misinformation is provided within 20 minutes, in 200 words or fewer, alongside two fun images. Early in the pandemic, for example, people were panic-buying toilet paper because of a rumour that it was being used to manufacture face masks; supplies were running out.

So, the Taiwanese premier, Su Tseng-chang, released a cartoon of him wiggling his bum, with a caption saying: “We only have one pair of buttocks.” It sounds silly, but it went viral. Humour can be far more effective than serious fact-checking.

So, is Boris Johnson shaking his bum the answer to the UK’s coronavirus problems? Probably (definitely) not. The lesson here is that a healthy democracy is built not from the top down, but from the bottom up.