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Japan's Next Election Campaign will be Tweeted, Emailed and Blogged

Japan has approved a bill that will allow political candidates to tweet and blog and run online advertisements during their election campaigns

Up until last week, Japanese electoral candidates had to cautiously navigate their Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and blogs to avoid breaking the country's strict election laws which banned online political activity.

The revised election law passed by both houses of Japan's legislature on April 19, 2013 will allow political candidates to use social media and other online platforms to voice their opinions and reach their voters.

The bill's impact could be soon as early as July, during the election for the House of Councilors.

Young activists and change-makers had been working behind the scenes to revise Japan's election law. Kensuke Harada, one of the founders of the One Voice Campaign [ja] that advocated for online election campaigning wrote [ja] in a Facebook post:

Finally the ban on online election campaigning is lifted! We've been working on this issue as One Voice Campaign since last April [2012]. This is the issue that our elders have been working on for years. But  April last year, nobody was talking about it, not even the politicians, or the public.

But I still wanted change. I thought it would be definitely fun if each one of us worked to make a difference in the law. With that passion, various people came together to the One Voice crew, and shaped how we are today. I am grateful to the people who are not members but helped us a lot too. [...]

I don't know how much impact we had in passing the bill but I can say it wasn't zero. With voices from each one of us, politics can change! You can bring change!

Image of Japanese Diet: Photo by flickr user  By Dick Thomas Johnson under Creative Commons License BY-2.0-Deed

Image of Japanese Diet: Photo by flickr user
By Dick Thomas Johnson under Creative Commons License BY-2.0-Deed

The change is expected to recapture Japan's youth vote, by offering young people, who have turned away from old media like newspapers, an option to be politically informed online.

Only 37.89 percent of voters in their 20s exercised the right to vote during the general election held in December 2012, which made overall voting rates hit a post-war record low of 59.3 percent.

But online campaign will not be completely free, there are rules and restrictions for both candidates and voters.

One concern is identity fraud; falsifying identity and posting damaging messages can lead to imprisonment of up to two years or a fine of up to roughly 3,000 US Dollars.

Internet service providers (ISP) have the authority to delete malicious comments, if users fail to provide acceptable reasons within two days of being notified。

GMO GlobalSign, an Internet security certification company, announced that they would provide verification services for political parties online. The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan also announced [ja] their plan to extend the use of Extended Validation Certificates on websites of individual politicians. They embraced the popular Verisign certification on their official website in 2011.

Music blogger and Twitter user Yamada (@wmsworries [ja] that pseudonyms, common in the citizen media sphere, might get users in trouble:

@wms:ネット選挙でSNSを利用した活動を全面的に認める代わりに、偽名による発言などは逮捕につながるという記事があったので、実名以外のアカウントで政治的発言するのはかなり危険性が高い時代になったと思われ。

@wms: According to some sources, there are chances of online users getting arrested by posting political comments with pseudonyms Even though social media is now fully acceptable for online campaigns, I think it can be dangerous to post political comments if you don't use an account with your real name.

Another concern is the use of online advertisement. Muto Nobuki, a Twitter user who works in the news and advertising industry tweets:

@mutonobuki:ネットという新市場が生まれるので、政党間で不安心理が起こりネット広告に資金流入するでしょう。ただ、政党も予算あるので削られる媒体出ますね。

@mutonobuki: Now that there's a new market online, political parties feel anxious without placing online ads, it is likely they will pour money on the Internet. But they have a limited budget, so certain media will lose advertising revenue.

Kalaiyo, a supporter of the  Liberal Democratic Party, which is popular among Japan's conservative voters, worries that the revised law allows political parties to buy as many online ads as they want, but leaves out measures for independent candidates:

@kalaiyo政党制である日本において無所属が不利なのは当たり前だが、無所属だけ広告出すの禁止というのは確かに変かな。

@kalaiyo: Japan's politick is based on a party system. So it's common that independent candidates that do not belong to any party have disadvantages. However it's kind of strange that [the law] bans independents from placing online ads.

Ryosuke Nishida, a researcher and professor on social entrepreneurship and public policy writes on his blog [ja]:

いろいろ言われているけれど、ネット選挙解禁は出発点というのが筆者の認識。国民が政治にもっとも関心をもつと思われる選挙運動期間にITの利活用を認めると、政治家は適応すべく、中長期でITへの理解を改善するだろう。そうすると、電子政府や電子自治体、通信と放送のあり方等々いろいろなところに波及する可能性を秘めている。

I think permitting online campaigns is a good starting point. Citizens pay more attention to politics during election campaigns. Using Information Technology, politicians will have better understanding of IT in the mid to long term while learning to adapt themselves to latest technologies: this will potentially lead to e-government and [integration of] communication and broadcasting.

Another Twitter user writes about the irony of the new law being passed while legislators have been unable to solve the unconstitutional state of Japan's election process due to vote disparity:

@gankuma_:定数是正(違憲)問題が遅々として改善されないのに選挙活動のネット解禁はあっさり決まるあたりに先生方のやる気の差が透けて見えるなとか思ってても言うよ。

@gankuma_: Let me think out loud – the online campaign bill was passed quickly while those who sit in the legislatures seem to have lesser motivation to resolve the issue of our unconstitutional elections.

Thumbnail photo by flickr user 7_70 under Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 2.0

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