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The curious relationship between a popular pro-gov't Twitter account and Japan's LDP

A screenshot of Twitter account "Dappi" is seen.

TOKYO -- Suspicions have emerged that anonymous Twitter account "Dappi," which boasts over 170,000 followers, is part of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s tactics to manipulate public opinion online after an information disclosure request by two members of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) revealed a web development firm that does business with the LDP was behind the controversial handle.

    Since June 2019, Dappi has tweeted several posts criticizing opposition party lawmakers along with videos of the Diet's question and answer sessions and conservative internet programs, while also tweeting praise for ruling party members. Dappi's profile reads, "I love Japan. I hate the biased mass media." As of Nov. 12, the handle had some 176,000 followers. The account has previously faced backlash over its use of footage edited to match its narrative, especially in several posts targeting opposition lawmakers' questions and statements in Diet meetings.

    CDP House of Councillors members Hiroyuki Konishi and Hideya Sugio had filed a lawsuit demanding internet providers and other entities disclose who was behind the account, and claimed their reputations were damaged by Dappi's posts. Subsequently in October this year, the two sued the Tokyo-based web development firm identified as the tweets' sender, as well as its president and other figures. The suit filed with the Tokyo District Court demands a total of 8.8 million yen (roughly $77,200) in damages and the removal of one tweet.

    Hiroyuki Konishi of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is seen at the Diet on March 5, 2021. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

    The plaintiffs claim the sender logged onto Twitter as Dappi in October 2020 and tweeted false information that a then employee of the Ministry of Finance's Kinki Local Finance Bureau "killed himself the day after Sugio and Konishi grilled him for an hour" over the public document tampering scandal involving the government's shady land sale to a nationalist school operator. The two say this constituted defamation. They also claim the Tokyo firm runs and manages the Dappi handle, but that alone won't prove the company is systematically involved in producing posts.

    Generally, information disclosure regarding social media is limited to individual posts. Therefore, whether the account itself is run by one person or a group cannot be determined. Furthermore, even if information on the internet connection contract is disclosed, it doesn't necessarily mean the person implicated in it is the party behind the post.

    Satoshi Fukazawa, a lawyer versed in information disclosure to identify senders of online posts, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "The internet contract holder is often found to be a different person from the sender." At the same time, he pointed out it's also common for the party asked to disclose information to claim that the contract holder and the sender are different people, when they are in fact the same individual.

    In September, the Tokyo District Court ruled in favor of the two lawmakers and ordered information be disclosed. The firm, which was named as the internet contract holder, has not submitted its counterargument in the ensuing damages suit. There is so far no proof indicating the LDP is in fact involved in Dappi's tweets.

    Despite this, suspicions the LDP is systematically involved in Dappi's operations don't seem to be clearing up. One reason is that the web development firm did do business with the ruling party.

    Hideya Sugio of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is seen at the Diet on Oct. 15, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

    According to several credit research companies, the firm in question was founded in 2001 and has fewer than 20 employees. Its services include making websites and planning ads and PR. Its main clients include the LDP and major publishers, and one of its main banks is Resona Bank's House of Representatives branch located in the lower house's First Members' Office Building. A security check needs to be passed to reach the branch, and Resona Bank says an individual cannot open an account there without a Diet building pass normally issued to lawmakers' private secretaries and other related parties. Passes include the carrier's name and which organization they belong to, along with their ID photo.

    According to a report on party subsidies spending, since at least 2007 entities including the LDP's Tokyo chapter association paid the firm a total of 25.48 million yen ($224,000) from public funding to political parties classed as for "internet server fees" and other purposes.

    Furthermore, the firm appears to do business with System Syunou Center Co., which is deeply connected with the LDP. System Syunou Center was established in 1977 to collect annual fees from nonmember LDP supporters. LDP Diet members have served as company executives, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was its director in 2001 and from 2003 to 2005.

    According to political funds reports, LDP headquarters paid System Syunou Center a total of 40.86 million yen ($360,000) in "expenses" in 2019 alone.

    The Mainichi Shimbun asked the web development firm for an interview, including on its possible involvement in Dappi and businesses commissioned by the LDP Tokyo chapter, but the company declined to comment on the matter in an email. It said it has not read the legal complaint filed by the two lawmakers. The Mainichi also asked the LDP Tokyo chapter for comment, but had not received a reply as of Nov. 12.

    In a letter, System Syunou Center responded that it commissions "the company in question for some systems development projects and maintenance services," but it has "no knowledge of the Twitter account." Meanwhile, the LDP headquarters stated in writing, "We are unaware of the Twitter account in question nor are we involved (in its operation). The expenses paid to System Syunou Center covered costs outsourcing administrative tasks and collecting annual membership fees. We are not involved at all in running Twitter through System Syunou Center."

    Dappi retweeted then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's tweet about lifting the coronavirus state of emergency on Oct. 1, but hasn't posted since. The account's relationship with the LDP remains unsolved.

    (Japanese original by Aya Shiota, Digital News Center)

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