Humour over rumour? The world can learn a lot from Taiwan’s approach to fake news | Arwa Mahdawi

Matt Hancock should spend less time watching Hollywood films and more time studying the Asian country’s innovative approach to misinformation

Matt Hancock, we learned recently, got a few pointers on how to shape the UK’s vaccine strategy from the 2011 movie Contagion. I don’t know if that is something I would boast about if I were the UK health secretary, but, look, it is great that the man is not shy about seeking out diverse sources of advice. Still, he might want to think about looking towards Taiwan, rather than Hollywood, for further inspiration.

Taiwan has had only nine confirmed Covid deaths so far. The island of almost 24 million people managed to snuff out the virus without having a nationwide lockdown. In October, there was a big Pride parade. Life is mostly back to normal and the economy is doing well.

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 has struck me most 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.

  • Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

Contributor

Arwa Mahdawi

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Moderna, Pfizer or AstraZeneca? The ridiculous, diverting rise of vaccine envy
Casual vaccine chat is today’s only form of small talk, so it’s not surprising it would take a lightheartedly tribal turn. Ultimately, of course, gratitude is at the heart of the conversation

Zoe Williams

21, Jun, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
‘The virus is painfully real’: vaccine hesitant people are dying – and their loved ones want the world to listen
In the UK, the majority of those now in hospital with Covid-19 are unvaccinated. Many face their last days with enormous regret, and their relatives are telling their stories to try to convince others like them

Sirin Kale

14, Sep, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
‘He was adamant he didn’t want it’: the pro-vax parents with vaccine-hesitant kids
Among under-18s, vaccine uptake is low, and there is a growing issue with misinformation spread on social media and at school. Is there anything a concerned caregiver can do?

Emine Saner

04, Nov, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Chakras, crystals and conspiracy theories: how the wellness industry turned its back on Covid science
Its gurus increasingly promote vaccine scepticism, conspiracy theories and the myth that ill people have themselves to blame. How did self-care turn so nasty?

Sirin Kale

11, Nov, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Masks, hugs and hand washing: 18 new rules for protecting yourself and others
When should you open the windows, wear a mask and take a lateral flow test? As we enter the ‘personal responsibility’ era, here’s an expert guide

Zoe Williams

18, Jul, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
‘What is happening to me?’ The teenagers trying to make sense of long Covid
More than 100,000 Britons under 25 have endured months of debilitating symptoms, while doctors struggle to help and others fail to take them seriously. Four young people describe what it’s like

Sirin Kale

10, Aug, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
Are Covid jabs ‘Trump vaccines’? No, but I’ll call them that if it means people will take them | Arwa Mahdawi
Trump sycophant Sarah Huckabee Sanders says the ex-president deserves credit for the jab rollout. If that’s the price of herd immunity, says Arwa Mahdawi, so be it

Arwa Mahdawi

28, Jul, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
The pandemic body: how the Covid era changed us – from hair loss to weight gain
Sore, blurry eyes, decaying teeth, spreading feet – the strange, difficult years of coronavirus have had unexpected effects on our general health

Amy Fleming

02, Dec, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Minna Heeraman had an aggressive cancer. Did the March 2020 treatment shutdown shorten her life?
Minna’s pancreatic surgery was cancelled as a result of the pandemic. By the time treatments resumed, her tumour was too big for doctors to operate

Sirin Kale

04, May, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
Hope, humour and zero-hours contracts: what four months as a vaccinator has taught me
After sitting alone in my flat for most of last year, I jumped at the chance to deliver Covid vaccines. This is what I’ve learned

Eleanor Morgan

14, Apr, 2021 @9:00 AM