The internet, social media, and Japanese election campaigns

Thank you for taking a look at our inaugural post on Nagatacho Now!

“Nagatacho Now” is a new series of blogs focused on the intersection between Japanese politics, social media, and policy issues.

Today’s post is about the internet, social media, and Japanese election campaigns.

Up until April 2013, using the internet during elections was prohibited by the Japanese Public Offices Election Law. However, since the law was revised, political parties and candidates are now permitted to electioneer online.

The law was changed to encourage politicians to be more proactive in updating their blogs and using social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to interact with voters. When the new law was enacted, many commentators suggested that perhaps it might lower the monetary requirements for succeeding in Japanese politics.

Now in 2018, with 5 years of “internet-OK elections” under the belt, let’s take a look at how Japanese elections have changed.

There are 465 House of Representatives members, 242 House of Councilors members, and 1,000’s more elected officials if you count all of the prefectural and local government posts, etc. As you would expect, most politicians set up or renew their website when they are about to stand for election. “About to” is the key word here, because some types of website edits in the midst of the election period could be seen as running afoul of the law. The running pattern seems to be that a new candidate will create a website as a matter of course, while incumbent politicians tend on average not to spend much energy on their internet presence unless a tough election is looming.

One might think there are a bevy of in-house internet election masterminds inside large and established parties like the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito Party that can be sent out to help individual politicians with digital campaign strategy. However, the reality is that parties with specialists tend to focus on their party’s official media, but leave individual activities to each politician and their staff. That means in national politics you have 707 politicians who either have to figure out themselves how to create their online brand, delegate it to a secretary, or hire an outside firm to do it for them.

The current state of affairs has some interesting implications for how Japanese politicians use the internet and social media.

In our next article, we will go into some specific examples of Japanese politicians’ internet strategy. Stay tuned!

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