Online trolling clouding policy debates

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The leaders of six political parties hold hands after appearing in a debate broadcast online on June 30.

The Yomiuri Shimbun Vicious slurs and insults cast by anonymous users of social networking services are zinging this way and that online as the July 21 House of Councillors election draws near. The online trolling is tending to eclipse calm policy debates, and private-sector efforts to identify nasty or false information that could sway the situation have started.

In the past few days, the official Twitter account of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) has been bombarded with messages disparaging the main opposition party. “You changed your party name many times, that’s why it gets mistaken,” one message said, while another blasted, “Just shows your political party isn’t even worth remembering.”

These messages began appearing after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, referred to CDPJ leader Yukio Edano as being from “Minshuto” (the Democratic Party of Japan).

Ahead of the 2017 House of Representatives election, the CDPJ gave its reported Japanese abbreviation as “Minshuto.” However, for the upcoming election, the party has plumped for the abbreviation “Rikken,” which is how the first two kanji characters in the party’s name are read. The Democratic Party for the People — the second-biggest opposition party — has chosen “Minshuto” for its abbreviated title in this month’s election. Consequently, a voter intending to cast a ballot for the CDPJ might accidentally vote for the DPFP if they write “Minshuto.”

It is possible Abe’s slip when referring to the name of Edano’s party could result in voters who support the CDPJ actually casting votes for a different party.

On Tuesday, the CDPJ posted a message on its official Twitter account to express its irritation over what it said was a “rude” mistake. However, this unleashed a torrent of criticisms like the ones mentioned earlier in this article, with some social media users even pasting and sharing posts from 2017 in which the CDPJ was describing itself as “Minshuto.”

Abe also targeted

The ruling parties also have copped abuse online.

Since July 4, the day the upcoming election was officially announced and campaigning started, the prime minister’s Twitter account has received a stream of abusive posts, with some messages calling him a “liar” and describing him as a “dictator pure and simple.”

Several videos circulating on Sunday show people holding placards while Abe gave a street address, and others shouting messages such as, “Abe, go home.” While some observers believe a firm crackdown on such behavior is needed, other people have shown understanding for the protesters, saying, “Loud jeering is to be expected.”

Many debates conducted over the internet are done by anonymous users and tend to degenerate into over-the-top exchanges or groundless slurs. People holding similar views tend to converge on certain websites where they can post messages, and that sometimes results in generating further extreme comments. One Twitter user lamented that, during the campaign period for the upper house election, “People write and talk about stuff that has nothing to do with people’s livelihoods or Japan’s future.”

Images shared

Efforts to harness the internet’s advantage of enabling people to easily share information and to scrutinize the assertions political parties make have been gaining attention.

“I’ll share these images that summarize their policies in an incredibly succinct way.”

A post featuring this comment that was uploaded on Monday was retweeted more than 110,000 times in just a few days. The images compared the policies of each party on several issues, including the pension system and education. The post received about 500 replies, with some making requests such as asking for details on the parties’ policies for securing financial resources.

However, if a post’s author or the sources used for such material are unclear, greater care must be exercised when checking whether the content is truly objective.

Stressing the importance of a wide range of perspectives, analysts warn it is “risky” to decide which party to vote for based only on images viewed online.Speech

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