No Twitter revolution in Japan

Twitter may be rapidly gaining ground in the United States, but it’s in Japan that the social media service has really exploded. Sixteen percent of all Japanese Internet users are now on Twitter, compared to just under ten percent of American Web surfers. Even more remarkable is that both countries share similar rates of broadband ...

Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

Twitter may be rapidly gaining ground in the United States, but it's in Japan that the social media service has really exploded. Sixteen percent of all Japanese Internet users are now on Twitter, compared to just under ten percent of American Web surfers. Even more remarkable is that both countries share similar rates of broadband Internet adoption, perhaps despite what you'd expect (in fact, the United States actually edges out Japan on broadband penetration by about two percent, according to the OECD).

Japanese tweets account for 12 percent of the world's total, and they've even been breaking records in recent days due to the World Cup. But Japan's infatuation with Twitter ends abruptly at the political campaign trail. As much as voters in the United States may be familiar with YouTube debates and social-network campaigning, Japan's politicians aren't allowed to gather votes on the Web. With a critical round of legislative elections coming up in early July, the law against Internet campaigning has silenced many of the candidates' Twitter feeds. For its part, Twitter is trying to get the ban overturned:

The election laws, which also limit posters and TV air time, are meant to give a chance to less well-financed candidates. But in the Internet era, the restrictions deprive them of cheap tools that would make campaigns more democratic, some critics say.

Twitter may be rapidly gaining ground in the United States, but it’s in Japan that the social media service has really exploded. Sixteen percent of all Japanese Internet users are now on Twitter, compared to just under ten percent of American Web surfers. Even more remarkable is that both countries share similar rates of broadband Internet adoption, perhaps despite what you’d expect (in fact, the United States actually edges out Japan on broadband penetration by about two percent, according to the OECD).

Japanese tweets account for 12 percent of the world’s total, and they’ve even been breaking records in recent days due to the World Cup. But Japan’s infatuation with Twitter ends abruptly at the political campaign trail. As much as voters in the United States may be familiar with YouTube debates and social-network campaigning, Japan’s politicians aren’t allowed to gather votes on the Web. With a critical round of legislative elections coming up in early July, the law against Internet campaigning has silenced many of the candidates’ Twitter feeds. For its part, Twitter is trying to get the ban overturned:

The election laws, which also limit posters and TV air time, are meant to give a chance to less well-financed candidates. But in the Internet era, the restrictions deprive them of cheap tools that would make campaigns more democratic, some critics say.

[…]

“It makes absolutely no sense at all,” said Tomoya Sasaki, senior operating officer of Digital Garage, which supports Twitter’s operations in Japan.

To skirt campaign rules, some people are tweeting about issues, such as U.S. military bases in Japan or an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease among livestock, he said.

Campaigning in Japan is dominated by vans with loudspeakers that zip around, screaming the name of the candidate over and over and begging for votes.

“Japanese people need more information, and they need to be able to debate the issues,” Shoji said. “People have the right to make intelligent choices, not just pick someone by a name.”

Should Japanese politicians be able to use the Web to their campaign advantage? Does the Internet make politics more democratic? Hit the comments.

Brian Fung is an editorial researcher at FP.

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