HONG KONG: Taiwan saw a surge in online misinformation as China hosted huge military drills this month, much of it aimed at undermining the democratic island's morale and pushing Beijing's narrative.
China raged against a visit to Taipei by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, sending warships, missiles and jets into the waters and skies around its self-ruled neighbour.
At the same time, pro-China posts flooded social media with false and misleading claims about Pelosi and her Taiwanese hosts.
Many posts shared old military footage, along with claims that they showed real military drills, mainly by China.
Fact-checkers played a round the clock game of whack-a mole as tensions in the Taiwan Strait rose to their highest level in years.
Charles Yeh, chief editor for Taiwanese fact-check site MyGoPen, said most of the misinformation his team had observed was anti-American and promoted the idea that the island should surrender to China.
In addition to military exercises in the physical world, China has launched offensives in the online world - cyberattacks and misinformation, he said.
Pelosi, a former critic of Beijing's human rights record, was the highest elected American official to visit Taiwan in decades and her journey generated huge interest in China.
A hashtag for her name attracted 800 million views on China's Twitter-like platform Weibo on the day she landed.
As millions watched a live stream of Pelosi's flight landing in Taiwan, unsubstantiated claims emerged that her plane had to turn back to the US after she got heatstroke.
Some Chinese users have vile insults at her, many of them misogynistic, such as branding her an unhinged hag and questioning why she was allowed to escape Taiwan's strict COVID 19 quarantine measures.
Pelosi was asked about the reaction during her trip, and Pelosi addressed the gendered criticism directly.
She said that they made a big fuss because I'm Speaker.
She added, "I don't know if that was a reason or excuse, because they didn't say anything when the men came. She referenced previous visits by male US politicians.
The comment caused a wry chuckle from the woman standing next to her, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen.