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Editorial: Japan politicians, voters should make effective use of internet for democracy

Political parties and candidates are campaigning online ahead of the July 10 House of Councillors election. This is the seventh national poll since the ban on using the internet for election campaigns was lifted in 2013.

    The lifting of the ban was initially expected to help raise young people's interest in politics. However, the effect has been limited, as candidates and parties often only use the internet to post information such campaign speech dates and times, and streaming videos.

    One merit of using the internet is that it allows individuals to freely send messages to countless people regardless of location or time. Disseminating information has also become much easier.

    In Europe, there are political movements that make good use of the internet to boost citizen participation, leading to rising interest in environmental action among young people.

    However, social media tends to deliver biased information on topics users are already interested in, and "fake news" and false rumors circulate freely on the platforms. They can also be used as a tool to manipulate users.

    In recent years, it has been pointed out that the role of marketing in politics has become stronger. Methods for analyzing data on users' preferences and behaviors and applying it to sales strategies have been applied to U.S. presidential election campaigning. Meanwhile, manipulation of public opinion and foreign intervention in elections also became a problem.

    Major political parties in Japan are also conducting similar research and analysis. Users must acquire the ability to judge and select information by understanding the nature of the internet.

    Democracy is essentially an activity in which people in various positions form consensus through discussion. Many people can connect and interact with each other online, so depending on how it's used, the internet has the potential to change politics.

    Some candidates in the upcoming upper house election have been holding "online meetings" to interact with voters using web conference service Zoom. Although it's an online space, meetings held over Zoom are much like a real venue where individuals can debate opinions in front of many people. If this type of online platform use becomes more common, election campaigns could become more open and easier for citizens to participate in.

    It's time for both politicians and voters to share their knowledge on how technology should be used to invigorate and build a mature democracy.

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