WHO says faces 'onslaught' of cyberattacks as Taiwan complains of censorship

GENEVA/TAIPEI (Reuters) - The World Health Organization said on Thursday it had faced an "onslaught" of cyberattacks by activists using key words like "Taiwan", after the government complained posts in support of the self-ruled island were being censored on Facebook.

Fiercely democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its own, has been angered by its inability to fully access the WHO, of which it is not a member due to China's objections, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week it again failed to get into the World Health Assembly, the WHO's decision-making body.

Taiwan's government said posts in support of Taiwan on the WHO's Facebook page were being censored by the WHO and blocked. Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said this ran contrary to the neutrality the WHO should be upholding.

"The Foreign Ministry expresses its strong regret and dissatisfaction," it said in a statement.

The WHO defended the move.

"During the World Health Assembly, WHO faces an onslaught of cyberattacks by online activists on a number of controversial issues, using keywords such as 'Taiwan' and 'China'," it said.

That hindered its ability to moderate conversations for people who came to their pages to discuss health issues, it said, and when that happened "our social media team applies content filters", the WHO added.

"This is a practical measure that does not reflect a value judgment or any policy of the World Health Organization. The aim is to enable our users to avoid being spammed through cyberattacks, including from bots, and to find a balanced way to keep information and conversation flowing."

However, it added that it had now restored the ability of users to post the words "Taiwan" and "China".

Taiwan, which has previously blamed China for stirring up enmity against the WHO by using fake accounts pretending to be run by Taiwanese, disputed that cyberattacks were to blame.

"They are just people leaving messages to support Taiwan, including our allies," said ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou.

China, which has never ruled out the use of force to bring Taiwan under its fold, has denied running a disinformation campaign against the island.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)