Forum staff quit over ‘political interference’

The China Post news staff

TAIPEI, Taiwan — One administrator of Taiwan’s largest online forum resigned and another was sacked after the removal of account information of a controversial user, believed to be a campaigner for incumbent Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu. Internet users expressed concern and said the incident was a sign that political groups are trying to interfere with the academically run PTT Bulletin Board System. The user in question, one with the online screen name ‘bennon,’ published an article on PTT on Sept. 29 alleging to have found evidence of lying by Chen’s opponent at the year-end Kaohsiung mayoral election, independent candidate and incumbent Kaohsiung County Magistrate Yang Chiu-hsing. Yang had previously said that he had not left an emergency response center on Sept. 19 when Typhoon Fanapi hit southern Taiwan, except to attend a wedding. Chen was widely criticized after she admitted she was at home and rested for 3 hours on the same afternoon as the typhoon tore its way through the region.

The online article on PTT, in which ‘bennon’ accused Yang of paying campaign visits on the morning of Sept. 19, was relayed to other websites and caught Yang’s attention, who vowed to file a lawsuit against the author. On Oct. 1, some PTT users noticed that the ‘bennon’ account had been removed from the PTT database, apparently to keep investigators from finding the personal information of the person who owned the account.

The NTU’s Electronic BBS Research Society, which runs PTT, first responded on Oct. 4, saying that the account was removed because its owner had registered to the BBS forum through multiple accounts. PTT users, however, were not satisfied with the society’s explanation and questioned why the removal of the account was not publicly announced as it is done in other cases.   The society Tuesday issued another statement and deviated from its earlier claims. It admitted that an administrator on legal affairs with the screen name ‘Saxon’ had deleted the account information upon the request of the owner, despite the fact that the administrator did not have the authority to do so.

‘Saxon’ had been sacked and another administrator on legal affairs had quit for over their involvement in the action, the society said. PTT users who conducted an investigation on the identity of the person behind ‘bennon’ claimed that the account was owned by former NTU Student Association president and Chen’s campaign officer secretary Kao Min-lin (°a?{μY), an allegation which Kao denied. Chen’s campaign office said that the article might have been published by one of their volunteer workers but more investigations are needed. The incident has raised concerns over the independence of PTT. The site was founded by a NTU student in 1995 and has transformed into Taiwan’s biggest, as well as one of the most influential, online forum with 1.5 million registered users, in which ten of thousands are online at any given time. Yang’s campaigners said that they have received complaints from PTT users saying that a substantial number of senior administrators of PTT are themselves supporters of Chen or of her Democratic Progressive Party. Articles supporting Yang are often deleted soon after they are posted on the PTT, Yang’s camp quoted PTT users as saying.