While Japanese citizens enjoy considerable Internet freedom, in times of election, things are a little different. The country's Public Offices Election Act [ja], restricts political candidates from publishing documents or pictures and forbids ordinary citizens from endorsing political figures – thus in practice the law can extend to blogging, tweeting and even updating Facebook statuses.
Ameba, one of Japan's most popular blog services wrote an official announcement [ja] reminding Ameba bloggers not to write a blog post or messages that may conflict with the Public Offices Election Act.
Here's an excerpt from Ameba's guidelines[ja],
Ameba's Guideline Prohibits
(3) [blog post] against social ethics and law
⑤ Pre-election campaigning of the election, an election campaign or an act similar to these is in conflict with the Public Offices Election Act
According to the post, examples of prohibitions include:
- uploading a street speech by a candidate
- uploading the broadcast of a candidate's political opinion
- promoting a particular candidate and party and encourage people to vote for the candidate
It is not Ameba's guidelines but rather the law of the land itself that prohibits these actions. Ameba users commented on the post [ja]:
この時期は、かなり神経質に成るからなぁ。。。褒めれば、投票促進に取られかねないし、酷評をすれば、ネガティブ・キャンペーンによる投票拒絶に取られかねない。。。選挙が終わるまでは、静観するのが無難なのかもね。。。くろにゃー 2012-12-06 14:13:07
People get nervous during election seasons. If you praise a particular party or a candidate, it could be interpreted as promoting a vote for that party/candidate. On the other hand, if you criticize one, it could be interpreted as a negative campaign that leads to discourage people from voting. Maybe we should just be quiet and observe how it goes until elections finish.
後でめんどくさい事にでもなったら困るからな；；エリュ 2012-12-06 14:55:54
So that means, I should not mention anything about elections on Ameba blog. Certainly good idea so as not to get into trouble later.
Political online ads thrive
While candidates and voters are restricted from publishing documents and images on the web, political online ads are thriving, sometimes even in unexpected juxtaposition, like in the screen capture below:
Also, you might need to watch an advertisement of Japan Restoration Party [ja] before viewing a video on Youtube. Japan Communist Party's ads appear on Hatena [ja] and on Twitter, and other ads from Liberal Democratic Party and Democratic Party of Japan appear on various blogs and websites through Google's advertising service.
[Note: Online political advertisement may show up differently depending on your location, web cache, according to advertisement service provider companies.]
While many political candidates refrain from posting updates on Facebook and Twitter to avoid violating the law, some politicians continue to use Twitter. Tōru Hashimoto, the mayor of Osaka city who heads Japan Restoration Party (he is not a candidate in this General Elections) continues to use Twitter. Criticizing the Public Offices Election Act, he continues to voice his opinion on Twitter. According to Hashimoto's twilog, a service that archives tweets, he tweeted 60 times on December 9, 2012. Whether his tweet is unlawful or not is up to the police to decide, said Osamu Fujimura, the Chief Cabinet Secretary.
The law impedes ordinary people as well. Some Twitter users warned the following tweet by popular comedian Kenji Tamura, who is not a political candidate, could be against Public Offices Election Act, because it could be considered as promoting a particular party:
自民党が単独過半数の勢い⁈ 自民がダメで民主、ほんで民主がダメで自民⁈はぁ？ この国の大人はどうかしてますね。こうなったら若者の皆さん僕たちの子供、孫たちのために立ち上がって選挙に行こう！狂った大人達に日本任せてたらもうダメ、若者の皆さん選挙に行こう
Now they are saying LDP is the only party leading the vote?! They voted for DPJ because LDP failed and now they want to vote for LDP because DPJ failed? That doesn't even make sense. Grown-ups in this country must be crazy. Youngsters, please! Let's stand up and vote for the future of our children and future grand-sons and daughters. We can not let these crazy adults take over this country. Youth, please vote.
While some users criticized this comment, many have shown support to Kenji Tamura as well. This comment was ReTweeted 3,175 times and 429 users marked it as a favorite tweet.
Twitter user juusou13 commented as follows on the news that most candidates had stopped updating their information online:
公職選挙法の見直しが必要だろう。情報発信のために、実態にあわせるべき。 RT@itmedia_news: 衆院選が公示され、ネットで候補者は一斉に沈黙。ニコ動は一部でコメント投稿機能を自粛など^編 http://bit.ly/UD1rSR
I think we need to take another look at the Public Offices Election Act. It should be updated for more information transmission as well as to fit with today's reality. RT@itmedia_news: As election campaign started off in the Lower House, candidates are suddenly silenced online. Nico Nico Douga has started self regulation on censoring comments partially. http://bit.ly/UD1rSR
Neuroscientist Kenichi Mogi commented on the irony of being silenced on the web while campaign advertising cars loudly pass by on the street.
The advertising car of political party has just passed me by. All I heard was its party name and that's it. It's unscientific that the use of Internet where people can discuss policies in detail is prohibited for campaign and only these cars are approved of Public Offices Election Act. Is this country in the Stone Age or what.