On Friday dramatic video of a fiery Chinese fighter jet crash went viral among social media users in Taiwan, triggering momentary panic.
The video showed flames engulfing the jet, initially reported as a Chinese Sukhoi fighter plane (a detail which remains uncertain), after it went down in a residential neighborhood supposedly near the Taiwan Strait, with the pilot being pulled from the flaming debris, apparently alive based on subsequent footage.
Crucially, the mysterious video spread with claims that it went down after Taiwan’s anti-air defense missiles took it out. The claims triggered so much alarm that Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense was forced to issue a formal statement, urging citizens not to spread the “fake news”. But not after the video had been seized upon by multiple news correspondents in India, with the below being an example:
— News Line IFE 🌈Live📡 (@NewsLineIFE) September 4, 2020
It goes without saying that relations between Beijing and Taipei are already immensely strained, on a war footing, with alternating war games near the Taiwan Strait as ‘warnings’. A single incident like a jet going down, even if accidental or completely false, could be enough to trigger a domino effect of responses leading to direct conflict.
Regional media, especially in India, featured the now debunked video on live broadcasts, breathlessly reporting a conflict is imminent:
A Chinese Sukhoi Fighter Jet has crashed in Taiwan. It is still unclear if the crash was caused due to a technical failure or if the Taiwan security forces attacked it. Watch the video here! pic.twitter.com/iftq09ifVW
— Ajay Jora (@AjayJora8) September 4, 2020
According to Daily Express, for this reason Taiwan moved to quickly quash the false rumor:
Amid whirling speculation, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense has been forced to release a statement denying they were responsible for the crash.
Describing the rumours as a “malicious act”, the department described the video as “fake news”.
In a statement, the department said: “In response to rumours online that claim a Chinese Su-35 fighter jet had been shot down by Taiwan air defense systems, #ROCAirForce would like to categorically state this is fake news.
“We urge citizens to not spread it and strongly condemn this malicious act.”
In response to rumors online that claim a Chinese Su-35 fighter jet had been shot down by Taiwan air defense systems, #ROCAirForce would like to categorically state this is fake news. We urge netizens to not spread it and strongly condemn this malicious act.
— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. (@MoNDefense) September 4, 2020
The details surrounding the video remain unclear, and later corrected reports suggested it was of a Chinese pilot who had crashed far away from the Taiwan Strait in southwestern China due to a mechanical failure.
1. There’s a Taiwan strait between TWN & CHN, if the TWN air defense shot down a jet, the jet must crash in sea not on land 2. The filed and brick houses in this vid is a common sight in Guangxi. 3. If Taiwan shot down a jet here, the missle has to fly 1400 km to reach there…🤷🏻♂️ pic.twitter.com/MU3fPWduYK
— Niko Wu (@Tinklestar1991) September 4, 2020
The whole episode shows that as tensions over Taiwan are on a knife edge, even a fake viral social media video is enough to trigger alerts and panic among the population.