Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Audrey Tang: Very happy to be joining you,

  • and good local time, everyone.

  • David Biello: So, tell us about --

  • Sorry to --

  • Tell us about digital tools and COVID.

  • AT: Sure.

  • Yeah, I'm really happy to share with you

  • how Taiwan successfully countered the COVID

  • using the power of digital democracy tools.

  • As we know, democracy improves as more people participate.

  • And digital technology remains one of the best ways to improve participation,

  • as long as the focus is on finding common ground,

  • that is to say, prosocial media instead of antisocial media.

  • And there's three key ideas that I would like to share today

  • about digital democracy that is fast, fair and fun.

  • First about the fast part.

  • Whereas many jurisdictions began countering coronavirus only this year,

  • Taiwan started last year.

  • Last December, when Dr. Li Wenliang, the PRC whistleblower,

  • posted that there are new SARS cases,

  • he got inquiries and eventually punishments

  • from PRC police institutions.

  • But at the same time,

  • the Taiwan equivalent of Reddit, the Ptt board,

  • has someone called nomorepipe

  • reposting Dr. Li Wenliang's whistleblowing.

  • And our medical officers immediately noticed this post

  • and issued an order that says

  • all passengers flying in from Wuhan to Taiwan

  • need to start health inspections the very next day,

  • which is the first day of January.

  • And this says to me two things.

  • First, the civil society trusts the government enough

  • to talk about possible new SARS outbreaks in the public forum.

  • And the government trusts citizens enough

  • to take it seriously and treat it as if SARS has happened again,

  • something we've always been preparing for, since 2003.

  • And because of this open civil society,

  • according to the CIVICUS Monitor after the Sunflower Occupy,

  • Taiwan is now the most open society in the whole of Asia.

  • We enjoy the same freedom of speech, of assembly,

  • [unclear] as other liberal democracies,

  • but with the emphasis on keeping an open mind

  • to novel ideas from the society.

  • And that is why our schools and businesses still remain open today,

  • there was no lockdown,

  • it's been a month with no local confirmed cases.

  • So the fast part.

  • Every day, our Central Epidemic Command Center, or CECC,

  • holds a press conference, which is always livestreamed,

  • and we work with the journalists,

  • they answer all the questions from the journalists,

  • and whenever there's a new idea coming in from the social sector,

  • anyone can pick up their phone and call 1922

  • and tell that idea to the CECC.

  • For example, there was one day in April

  • where a young boy has said he doesn't want to go to school

  • because his school mates may laugh at him

  • because all he had is a pink medical mask.

  • The very next day,

  • everybody in the CECC press conference started wearing pink medical masks,

  • making sure that everybody learns about gender mainstreaming.

  • And so this kind of rapid response system

  • builds trust between the government and the civil society.

  • And the second focus is fairness.

  • Making sure everybody can use their national health insurance card

  • to collect masks from nearby pharmacies,

  • not only do we publish the stock level of masks of all pharmacies,

  • 6,000 of them,

  • we publish it every 30 seconds.

  • That's why our civic hackers, our civil engineers in the digital space,

  • built more than 100 tools that enable people to view a map,

  • or people with blindness who talk to chat bots, voice assistants,

  • all of them can get the same inclusive access to information

  • about which pharmacies near them still have masks.

  • And because the national health insurance single payer

  • is more than 99.9 percent of health coverage,

  • people who show any symptoms

  • will then be able to take the medical mask,

  • go to a local clinic,

  • knowing fully that they will get treated fairly

  • without incurring any financial burden.

  • And so people designed a dashboard

  • that lets everybody see our supply is indeed growing,

  • and whether there's over- or undersupply,

  • so that we codesign this distribution system

  • with the pharmacies, with the whole of society.

  • So based on this analysis,

  • we show that there was a peak at 70 percent,

  • and that remaining 20 percent of people were often young, work very long hours,

  • when they go off work, the pharmacies also went off work,

  • and so we work with convenience stores

  • so that everybody can collect their mask anytime,

  • 24 hours a day.

  • So we ensure fairness of all kinds,

  • based on the digital democracy's feedback.

  • And finally, I would like to acknowledge that this is a very stressful time.

  • People feel anxious, outraged,

  • there's a lot of panic buying,

  • a lot of conspiracy theories in all economies.

  • And in Taiwan,

  • our counter-disinformation strategy is very simple.

  • It's called "humor over rumor."

  • So when there was a panic buying of tissue paper, for example,

  • there was a rumor that says,

  • "Oh, we're ramping up mass production,

  • it's the same material as tissue papers,

  • and so we'll run out of tissue paper soon."

  • And our premier showed a very memetic picture

  • that I simply have to share with you.

  • In very large print,

  • he shows his bottom,

  • wiggling it a little bit,

  • and then the large print says

  • "Each of us only have one pair of buttocks."

  • And of course, the serious table shows

  • that tissue paper came from South American materials,

  • and medical masks come from domestic materials,

  • and there's no way that ramping up production of one

  • will hurt the production of the other.

  • And so that went absolutely viral.

  • And because of that, the panic buying died down

  • in a day or two.

  • And finally, we found out the person who spread the rumor in the first place

  • was the tissue paper reseller.

  • And this is not just a single shock point in social media.

  • Every single day,

  • the daily press conference gets translated

  • by the spokesdog of the Ministry of Health and Welfare,

  • that translated a lot of things.

  • For example, our physical distancing is phrased as saying

  • "If you are outdoors, you need to keep two dog-lengths away,

  • if you are indoor, three dog-lengths away," and so on.

  • And hand sanitation rules, and so on.

  • So because all this goes viral,

  • we make sure that the factual humor spreads faster than rumor.

  • And they serve as a vaccine, as inoculation,

  • so that when people see the conspiracy theories,

  • the R0 value of that will be below one,

  • meaning that those ideas will not spread.

  • And so I only have this five-minute briefing,

  • the rest of it will be driven by your Q and A,

  • but please feel free to read more

  • about Taiwan's counter-coronavirus strategy,

  • at taiwancanhelp.us.

  • Thank you.

  • DB: That's incredible.

  • And I love this "humor versus rumor."

  • The problem here in the US, perhaps,

  • is that the rumors seem to travel faster than any response,

  • whether humorous or not.

  • How do you defeat that aspect in Taiwan?

  • AT: Yeah, we found that, of course,

  • humor implicitly means there is a sublimation

  • of upsetness, of outrage.

  • And so as you see, for example, in our premier's example,

  • he makes fun of himself.

  • He doesn't make a joke at the expense of other people.

  • And this was the key.

  • Because people think it hilarious,

  • they share it,

  • but with no malicious or toxic intentions.

  • People remember the actual payload,

  • that table about materials used to produce masks,

  • much more easily.

  • If they make a joke that excludes parts of the society,

  • of course, that part of society will feel outraged

  • and we will end up creating more divisiveness,

  • rather than prosocial behavior.

  • So the humor at no expense,

  • not excluding any part of society,

  • I think that was the key.

  • DB: It's also incredible

  • because Taiwan has such close ties to the origin point of this.

  • AT: PRC, yes.

  • DB: The mainland.

  • So given those close economic ties,

  • how do you survive that kind of disruption?

  • AT: Yeah, I mean, at this moment,

  • it's been almost a month now with no local confirmed cases,

  • so we're doing fine.

  • And what we are doing, essentially,

  • is just to respond faster than pretty much anyone.

  • We started responding last year,

  • whereas pretty much everybody else started responding this year.

  • We tried to warn the world last year, but, anyway.

  • So in any case,

  • the point here is that if you start early enough,

  • you get to make sure that the border control

  • is the main point where you quarantine all the returning residents and so on,

  • instead of waiting until the community spread stage,

  • where even more human-right invading techniques

  • would probably have to be deployed one way or the other.

  • And so in Taiwan, we've not declared an emergency situation.

  • We're firmly under the constitutional law.

  • Because of that, every measure the administration is taking

  • is also applicable in non-coronavirus times.

  • And this forces us to innovate.

  • Much as the idea of "we are an open liberal democracy"

  • prevented us from doing takedowns.

  • And therefore, we have to innovate of humor versus rumor,

  • because the easy path, the takedown of online speech,

  • is not accessible to us.

  • Our design criteria, which is no lockdowns,

  • also prevented us from doing any, you know,

  • very invasive privacy encroaching response system.

  • So we have to innovate at the border,

  • and make sure that we have a sufficient number of, for example,

  • quarantine hotels or the so-called "digital fences,"

  • where your phone is basically connected to the nearby telecoms,

  • and they make sure that if they go out of the 15-meter or so radius,

  • an SMS is sent to the local household managers or police and so on.

  • But because we focus all these measures at the border,

  • the vast majority of people live a normal life.

  • DB: Let's talk about that a little bit.

  • So walk me through the digital tools

  • and how they were applied to COVID.

  • AT: Yes.

  • So there's three parts that I just outlined.

  • The first one is the collective intelligence system.

  • Through online spaces

  • that we design to be devoid of Reply buttons,

  • because we see that, when there's Reply buttons,

  • people focus on each other's face part, not the book part,

  • and without "Reply" buttons,

  • you can get collective intelligence

  • working out their rough consensus of where the direction is going

  • with the response strategies.

  • So we use a lot of new technologies,

  • such as Polis,

  • which is essentially a forum that lets you upvote and downvote

  • each other's feelings,

  • but with real-time clustering,

  • so that if you go to cohack.tw,

  • you see six such conversations,

  • talking about how to protect the most vulnerable people,

  • how to make a smooth transition,

  • how to make a fair distribution of supplies and so on.

  • And people are free to voice their ideas,

  • and upvote and downvote each other's ideas.

  • But the trick is that we show people the main divisive points,

  • and the main consensual points,

  • and we respond only to the ideas

  • that can convince all the different opinion groups.

  • So people are encouraged to post more eclectic, more nuanced ideas

  • and they discover, at the end of this consultation,

  • that everybody, actually, agrees with most things,

  • with most of their neighbors on most of the issues.

  • And that is what we call the social mandate,

  • or the democratic mandate,

  • that then informs our development of the counter-coronavirus strategy

  • and helping the world with such tools.

  • And so this is the first part,

  • it's called listening at scale for rough consensus.

  • The second part I already covered is the distribute ledger,