by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Twitter

IN THE LAST few days, one has observed Taiwanese netizens engaging in a number of Twitter campaigns. This occurs despite the fact that Twitter is not widely used in Taiwan, with higher usage of social media networks such as Facebook and Instagram, Internet forums as PTT and DCard, and messenger apps such as Line.

Twitter has seen periodic periods of growth from the Taiwanese public in past years. One has seen waves of Taiwanese users joining Facebook after incidents in which Facebook posts related to Taiwanese politics were reported as inappropriate content on the platform, prompting fears regarding censorship. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s long-standing aspirations to enter the Chinese market are well-known.

An example of an #ThisAttackCameFromTaiwan Tweet

However, it still proves a relatively new development for Taiwanese netizens to join Twitter in the hopes of influencing international perceptions of Taiwan. This took place after comments by WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus accusing the Taiwanese government of engaging in a campaign against him, including allegations that this purported campaign demonstrated “racism” against Africans.

In the wake of Tedros’ accusations, Taiwanese took to Twitter to satirically post pictures showing Taiwan in a positive light with the hashtag “#ThisAttackComeFromTaiwan” or “#ThisAttackCameFromTaiwan”, such as pictures of food, night markets, or landscapes. The idea of the hashtag would be to highlight positive aspects of Taiwan, while pointing toward the arbitrary nature of Tedros’ accusations against Taiwan, suggesting that even positive contributions by Taiwan to the world could be construed as an “attack.”

One can perhaps compare to the phenomenon of Hongkongers taking to Twitter to post in English about events related to the protests that have taken place in Hong Kong over the past year using hashtags such as “#FollowBackHongKong” or “#SOSHK”. Likewise, the “ThisAttackCameFromTaiwan” hashtag took place at the same time as a campaign on social media to crowdfund enough funds to take out an ad in the New York Times to draw attention to Taiwan’s contributions to global health. This campaign was organized by individuals who had coordinated a similar campaign during the Sunflower Movement, such as Lin Zuyi of the civic media platform Watchout and designer Aaron Nieh, who was the designer for Tsai Ing-wen’s 2016 campaign.

Relatedly, one has observed an uptick in the production of English-language memes from Taiwanese Facebook meme pages over the last two days. This would be part of attempts by Taiwanese netizens to join in on a social media war that has broken out in the last few days between Thai and Chinese netizens, after actor Vachirawit Chivaree retweeted a series of photos commenting that they were from “four countries.”

As some of these photos were from Hong Kong, which Chinese nationalists would take offense to being referred to as a “country,” Chinese netizens reacted in outrage, subsequently digging up Instagram photos of Chivaree’s girlfriend, actress Weeraya Sukaram, taken in Taiwan. Comments by Chivaree left on an Instagram post stated that Sukaram looked like a “Chinese girl” in the photo, but comments by Sukaram in response were interpreted by Chinese netizens as reacting negatively to this suggestion. That Sukaram described her outfit in the photo as “Taiwanese-style” also led to accusations by Chinese netizens that Sukaram supported Taiwanese independence and past retweet by Sukaram suggested that she believed the COVID-19 coronavirus had originated in animals used in Chinese labs to test vaccines.

Example of a #nnevvy Tweet

As such, Chinese netizens subsequently began to criticize Thailand using the hashtag #nnevvy, the handle of Sukaram’s Twitter account being @nnevvy. Thai netizens responded in turn with hashtags mocking Chinese Internet trolls for their sensitivity on issues of nationalism, while pointing out that they were not afraid to criticize their own government. Though Thailand is currently ruled by a military junta, Twitter users in Thailand tend to slant more critical of the government.

One subsequently saw a number of Twitter users from Taiwan and Hong Kong also join in on mockery of Chinese netizens using the #nnevvy hashtag, making #nnevvy into an international campaign. Social media trolling wars between residents of different nations or territories seem to be increasingly common, as observed in clashes between Taiwanese netizens and Chinese netizens or between Hong Kong netizens and Chinese netizens in past years. However, it is relatively uncommon for hashtag campaigns to involve multiple nations.

Online spaces, then, continue to be arenas for contestation regarding national identity. This is what recent events go to show.

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