This summer's House of Councillors election will be Japan's first full-fledged online and social media election. The rules on Internet communications have been loosened, albeit not banished (One example of a legacy rule, reinterpreted for the new age? How does "during the campaign, while it is not illegal to forward an email from a candidate, it is illegal to print out that email on paper and hand distribute the paper printout" strike you?) For example, the first face-to-face (and possibly only) debate between the party leaders took place not in a terrestrial broadcast studio or at the National Press Club, but on a glitzy and demeaning stage provided by the Nico Nico Douga streaming site. (Link - J)
We have travelled very far from the dignified, controlled political presentations of even just a few years ago.
Three consequences of the new, Net-based campaign:
1) It will be both easier and harder to track the campaigns of individual candidates and their supporters.
More of what the candidate is doing and saying will be available for everyone to peruse at near zero cost.
However, with the plethora of videos, blog posts and tweets means there will be all the more political dross to wade through.
2) Japan’s mainstream media, print and broadcast, will be fighting a desperate and futile battle to pull politics back into their orbits.
NHK tried its best during its morning’s newscast to highlight purported abuses of net communications and how they may have affected election outcomes in South Korea, where Web participation is higher and the barriers on Web campaigning are lower.
The problem -- and it is a huge one for the major news media conglomerates, who have heretofore retained their vitality and relevance in Japan -- is that prime minister Abe Shinzo is enamored of communicating through the Internet. The Net has allowed Abe to be himself (whining that no one pays attention to him; thundering at any who dare criticize him) with neither the presentation of his ideas nor his attitude being challenged by those damn, pesky, back-stabbing journalists.
Speaking of which (being enamored of the Net, not back-stabbing journalists) the PM has moved beyond the confines of Facebook and is now striding the halls of LinkedIn.
3) As with any new toy, there is little awareness of the limits or levels of safe play. The July 2013 elections will likely be the coarsest, most heated and most dispiriting in history, despite the outcome being largely decided (the latest Yomiuri public opinion poll results are accessible here) and the lack of divisive national issues. Already this year there have been a number of kerfuffles over government and political figures losing their all sense of decorum in social media. (For one example of twittery, see - Link)
The levels of abuse and ranting in this upcoming campaign (which officially kicks off on the 4th) will likely change the views many hold of this blessed land's politics, yours truly not excepted.