Japan Embraces Online Campaigning

May 7, 2013

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On Friday April 19th, the House approved a bill allowing e-campaigning for the first time in Japan. The bill, an amendment to the Public Offices Election Law (POEL), targets the documents and drawings restriction interpreted to encompass online information and images as well.
Online campaigning
Prior to the changes, candidates had not been able to tweet, send emails, or even update their websites during the official campaign period. With an increasingly aging Japan, lawmakers with some reservations are counting on the role of online campaigning in persuading the young to come out and vote. Only 59.3% of voters showed up for last December’s elections, the majority of them over 60.

In the United States, where billions are spent on campaigns, it may be difficult to imagine the official campaign period in Japan where politicians engage voters by driving around in minivans, or stopping to stand on them in order to give platform speeches.

The outdated law originally meant to preserve fairness by preventing candidates from developing a financial advantage over others, has instead stifled communication between candidates and their constituencies. Both sides stand to gain from the new system.

Candidates will be able to better differentiate themselves through greater detail and a more dynamic dialogue over the web. They will be in a better position to respond to online attacks, and could amass a greater and more committed following through voter participation in the political process.

Voters on the other hand will be better equipped to make informed decisions with access to manifestos, and online videos of platforms speeches. They will be afforded with greater political rights by being able to provide input over the positions taken by candidates.

These benefits come with a host of challenges however. They primarily include the cost of monitoring public opinion, and the need to deal with potential exposure to false information. Political parties have started adopting verification services to protect against impersonation attacks such as phishing and email spoofing.

Nevertheless, for a nation with over a 95% penetration rate, overall internet use is still strikingly low with, according to Asahi, the 2nd largest publication in Japan, only 11% of users citing the internet as their primary media source of information during campaigns. That figure revolves around 25% in the United States.

Interestingly enough, even though only 7% of people in their 20s go to the newspaper for information, 40% cite the paper as a reliable source of information while only 6% can say the same regarding the internet. In the context of increasing younger voter turnout, instilling trust in internet users may prove as important as message development.