China’s online ‘cognitive warfare’ ridicules shoulder-shaking dance video by Taiwanese officers

Published (HKT): 2021.04.20 05:30

A video featuring Taiwan’s judicial investigative officers performing the popular shoulder-shaking dance has become the latest target of netizens from mainland China, who are ridiculing the video for ruining the image of a serious government department by showing officers acting like zombies.

The opening of the three-minute video shows dozens of young officers or trainees dressed in black suits and doing a shoulder-shaking dance. The “contagious” dance then spread to other departments in the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau and other employees in the department, including some senior officials who also participated in the performance.

The video was shot in 2017, when the shoulder-shaking dance became a massive hit in Taiwan. New York dance duo Handsome Dancer’s hit song “Coincidance” and their iconic shoulder-shaking dance moves were brought to Taiwan in an award-winning TV commercial for the car brand Škoda. Its impact remained when pop singer Jam Hsiao last year revived the hype in a shoulder-shaking dance performance with over a hundred young dancers.

This judicial investigation officers’ version from 2017 has recently resurfaced in mainland China, becoming a subject of ridicule. Netizens suggested that the officers were “fake”, and “there must be a number of spies” in the video. The comments went viral, drawing more criticism. Some called the officers in the video “zombies” while others speculated if the video was a recruitment ad.

The investigation bureau responded that the video was shot by trainees in December 2017 to create an image of vivid, innovative thinking. The video coincided with the shoulder-shaking dance trend at that time, and nothing in the video was inappropriate or against any law, the bureau added.

But some observers have connected this coordinated response, to an old video, as a sign that the mainland’s cognitive warfare operations are becoming more sophisticated. That is the view of Lin Ying-yu, an adjunct assistant professor at the Institute of Strategic and International Affairs at National Chung Cheng University in Chiayi, Taiwan.

Lin noted that, compared to previous tactics involving fabricated content and information, this is a rare case involving a real video. It aims to undermine the image and legitimacy of Taiwan’s legal departments and make the Taiwanese public distrust their government, he said.

Su Tzu-yun, an associate research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, noted that attacks from mainland netizens are an orchestrated effort with a different operating style from those of content farms or volunteer netizens. It is a part of cognitive warfare, involving collecting and studying “big data” to learn and take advantage of audience preferences, Su said.

But the effectiveness of the mainland netizens’ attacks will depend on how the Taiwanese public responds, said Hui Ching, research director of the Hong Kong Zhi Ming Institute. Taiwanese like quirky cultural phenomenon, and the video aims to show a friendly, down-to-earth side of the investigation officers, he noted.

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