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News Navigator: What restrictions are there on online election campaigning in Japan?

The Mainichi answers common questions readers may have about Japanese legislation on online election campaigning.

Question: Internet campaigning has been quite lively ahead of the House of Representatives election in Japan, hasn't it?

Answer: A revision to the Public Offices Election Law four years ago made it possible for voters to call for support for candidates and ask for votes online. The main avenues available are webpages, which fall under the category of "websites, etc."; blogs; video sharing services such as YouTube; and social networking services such as Twitter and the messaging app Line.

Q: Can email also be used?

A: The use of email for such purposes is restricted to candidates and political parties; it cannot be used by ordinary voters. This is because email can easily be used to impersonate or defame people. Additionally, there are complicated restrictions regarding its use, such as having to obtain permission from the recipients for emails sent by candidates or political parties, meaning there is a high chance voters could violate the law without realizing it when sending emails. Ordinary voters are also prohibited from forwarding emails they received from candidates or political parties.

Q: What about when you want to send something to an acquaintance?

A: Messages sent through social networking services fall under "websites, etc.," so they can be used for election activities. Through such services, voters can call for votes for specific candidates through their accounts, and retweet and share such information.

Q: Are there any other points people need to take note of?

A: It is also forbidden to print and distribute candidates' and political parties' pledges and other information about them that exists on the internet. Malicious slander and abuse is also prohibited.

Q: As long as these guidelines are followed, can anyone participate in online campaigning?

A: The person must be aged 18 or older and the period is limited -- from the day of the official announcement of the election until the day before the election -- regardless of whether the activities are online or offline. Those aged under 18 cannot participate in election activities at all, even as volunteers. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has called for attention to be brought to this, saying, "Young people under the age of 18 are familiar with the internet. It's also important for parents and guardians to supervise them." (Answers by Hiroki Masuda, center for digital news coverage)

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