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Could social computing encourage the Japanese electorate to be more engaged in politics?

Forrester
November 20, 2007

I shan't translate today's Japanese blog entry into English. I think that my "subway series" metaphor for the Rudy vs. Hillary battle might not impress you English speakers…

But I will make my observation that Social Computing has grown tremendously in significance since the "Deaniacs" of 2003/2004 used online networks to get young people engaged with a political campaign, raising funds and assembling like-minded people behind their candidate.

Fast foward to 2007 –Today, you only need to Google the name of a candidate currently vying for the Republican or Democratic nomination to find a gamut of Facebook pages, MySpace pages, Twitter feeds and other Social Computing tools. To an outsider like me (I'm British) it appears that the US candidates cannot ignore the power of online communities of interested voters.

By contrast, I think that Japan's electoral machines are still stuck in the era of the stump speech. If you visit Japan during a pre-election period, you will see trucks with loud speakers outside all major stations, from which the political candidates deliver their amplified message toward the commuters and passers-by. I can't believe that it's an effective strategy for motivating voters.

Japan's prime minister in 2001 – Junichiro Koizumi – launched an email newsletter to talk directly to the electorate. It was a bold move at the time. But it's still a one-way conversation and I haven't noticed a groundswell of social computing influence on Japanese politics since then.

I might investigate the reasons for this. I suspect that political social computing is being held back by the laws governing political campaigning in Japan. For example, I recall that during the 2005 general election, a famous internet entrepreneur — Takafumi Horie — stood as a candidate. And although he had been blogging for a long time prior to the election, he was obliged to cease this as soon as he announced his candidacy, because the activity was a potential contravention of Japanese election laws.

I wonder if things will loosen up here to allow politicians to leverage social computing to mobilize their supporters. It probably didn't help that Horie – the internet mogul turned politician – was later convicted of securities fraud.

As you can tell, I'm not as in touch with Japanese politics as I ought to be. I need to investigate a few things before I can confirm my theory. If you're interested in getting some "inside baseball" on the political scene in Japan, I recommend Observing Japan.

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