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In Japan, campaigning over the Internet was once strictly prohibited, but this ruling was finally reversed for the 2013 election as a result of observations of the US presidential campaigns and the effects of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. The United States has few restrictions on Internet campaigning and a longer history of the use of the Internet in elections. Internet campaigns promote grassroots movements and connect politicians and voters. However, certain side effects have also appeared: (1) they have enhanced nationalism and polarization through selective contact behavior, (2) they are vulnerable to foreign interventions such as hacks, trolling, and micro-targeting, and (3) they increase the emotional use of words, a tendency that has progressed as media formats changed from party papers to penny papers, from radio to television, and from homepages to social networking systems. This paper will analyze election campaigns using the Internet, comparing the present state of the United States and Japan.


Japan has close security and economic relations with the United States, leading it to adopt and follow US cyber security policies1 and internet-based political campaigns. This has led some scholars to argue that there has been an "Americanization of elections" in Asia, particularly in Japan, but also South Korea and Taiwan.2 In Japan, campaigning via the internet was once strictly prohibited by the Public Official Election Law; however, this ruling was reversed for the 2013 election as a result of observations from the 2008 and 2012 US presidential campaigns and the effects of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011.3

After Japan recognized how strong an impact of social networking sites (SNS) had on the US election in 2008, the number of Internet accounts of Japanese politicians and governmental institutions increased; however, officials [End Page 27] were hesitant to introduce internet campaigns. Examination of the lawmaker-initiated legislation regarding the Internet in 20104 showed officials' early awareness of false accounts (trolls) and false information.5 Japanese Public Official Election Law strictly regulates political campaigns to prohibit bribing the voters and to keep the costs and availability of information on campaigns equal among candidates. The initial law also did not permit images and words directly related to the campaigns on the Internet because it was deemed impossible to limit them to a standard format on the Internet.6 Although anonymous bulletin board systems (BBS), such as 2-channel, were popular among past core Japanese internet users in the 2000s, there was a dynamic balance between false information and hate speech as well as whistle-blowers.7

Since the earthquake, however, both politicians and citizens have dramatically increased their usages of SNS. There are two main reasons for this increase. (1) During the earthquake, local official web pages went down without enough power for their servers and Twitter was used to share information about search and rescue operations. (2) As aftershocks continued, even after the earthquakes had subsided, real-time SNS were utilized for gathering breaking news on an urgent basis and sharing experiences with others. The same things happened in the US during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Due to the increase in the usage of SNS, internet campaigns have been permitted in Japan since 2013. However, real names and contact addresses had to be attached to the images used in internet campaigns to avoid trolls and false information.8

Technology, however, is always a double-edged sword. Internet campaigns promote grassroots movements and connect politicians and voters. On the other hand, certain side effects have also appeared. Internet campaigns9 (1) increase the emotional use of words, a tendency that has progressed as media formats changed from party papers to penny papers, from radio to television, and from homepages to social networking systems;10 (2) have enhanced nationalism and polarization through selective contact behavior;11 and (3) are vulnerable to foreign interventions such as hacking, trolling, and micro-targeting.12 Japan conducts Americanized internet campaigning, but still has unique circumstances and experiences, such as fewer challenges from social networking sites (SNS), polarization (most Japanese voters do not have specific party loyalties), and foreign trolls.13 However, some Japanese officials have [End Page 28] expressed deep concerns about future internet-based campaigning after observing recent US struggles. This article first examines differences in US and Japanese internet campaign security perspectives and practices and then considers the security and governance of internet-based campaigning and cyberspace, focusing on the vulnerability to foreign interventions.

Internet Usage in Life and Campaigns

The United States has few restrictions on internet-based campaigning and a longer history of using the Internet in elections. Maeshima observes that Internet-based campaigning in the United States has four noteworthy characteristics: media-centered campaign practices, declining political parties, professionalization of electioneering, and growth of cynicism among voters.14 According to the Pew Research Center, Americans learn about elections foremost from cable television, but from social media second—both at higher percentages than radio or print media.15

Figure 1. Media That Americans Use to Learn about Elections, by Most Useful
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Figure 1.

Media That Americans Use to Learn about Elections, by Most Useful

In total, 78 percent of Americans learn about elections from television, 65 percent from digital media, and 36 percent from print media, as indicated in Figure 2. [End Page 29]

Figure 2. News Formats in America, by Percentage Used (Multiple Options)
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Figure 2.

News Formats in America, by Percentage Used (Multiple Options)

Almost 60 percent of American Internet users received news from SNS in 2016, up from 40 percent in 2012.16 Forty-four percent of Americans receive Internet news from Facebook, 10 percent from YouTube, and 9 percent from Twitter, as indicated in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Digital News Sources in America, by Percentage Used
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Figure 3.

Digital News Sources in America, by Percentage Used

[End Page 30]

In contrast, the Japanese tend to receive news from television and print media, even though Internet penetration in Japan is greater than it is in the US, with 91 percent of Japanese citizens having access to the Internet compared with a rate of only 74.5 percent in the United States.17 Japanese people under forty view Internet news as more convenient than traditional media, as indicated in Figure 4, but they still trust newspapers and NHK (public television) more than Internet news, as indicated in Figure 5.18

Figure 4. News Sources for Japanese (multiple options)
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Figure 4.

News Sources for Japanese (multiple options)

Figure 5. Most Trusted Japanese News Sources (multiple options)
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Figure 5.

Most Trusted Japanese News Sources (multiple options)

[End Page 31]

More than 80 percent of Japanese prefer news from portal sites such as Yahoo Japan and aggregation sites such as SmartNews—rather than SNS and Apps—to access news on the web, while US citizens prefer Facebook and Twitter, as indicated in Figure 6.19 Portal sites are platforms or gates not only for subscribing to news but also for using a mail account, a search engine, a weather forecast site, etc. Older portal sites tend to include news from conservatives and liberals alike. Traditional portal sites, such as Yahoo Japan, tend to be stricter and more neutral about the selection of news sites and to use both algorithm and editors to select news, because they need to be trusted to provide other services such as a mail account and a search engine at the same time.20 For example, the news index of Yahoo Japan has "ten news," which includes both a traditional news agency and sports and entertainment newspaper, such as Reuters (news agency), Mainichi (a moderate newspaper), Jiji (a news agency), Withnews (new media), sports newspapers, and so on. For foreign fake-news makers, joining the traditional portal would be difficult.

On the other hand, news aggregation sites specifically collect news content. A new growing news aggregation service, SmartNews,21 includes an anonymous site with 2-channel, which has some risk of sharing fake news from the right and nationalists as well as leaks. SmartNews includes the political parts of

Figure 6. Sites and Apps the Japanese Use for Internet News (Multiple Options)
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Figure 6.

Sites and Apps the Japanese Use for Internet News (Multiple Options)

[End Page 32] 2-channel, which are similar to Breitbart News or WikiLeaks.22 SmartNews also provides foreign news, such as stories from Chinese and Korean newspapers, in a manner similar to Aljazeera for the US. Both Yahoo Japan and SmartNews provide domestic conservative news, such as Sankei news, and liberal news, such as Asahi news. Sankei news is close to the Japanese main party and similar to FOX News in the United States, and Asahi newspaper is close to the New York Times. In all, there are risks, but they are balanced by both liberal and conservative, and domestic and international news among the different Internet news sites, to some extent.

Japan is an aging society, so Japanese officials lowered the voting age from 20 to 18 years old to balance the voting demography. However, the attitudes of younger Japanese towards social media and the Internet are similar to those in the US. The Internet has more influence on those in their teens and twenties in Japan, as this paper describes. Additionally, although the Japanese originally tended to create anonymous Internet space, for instance, the NicoNico video (similar to YouTube)23 and 2-channel (now 5-channel),24 there have been recent shifts to Abema (similar to Netflix)25and Line (similar to Messenger and What-sApp).26 Although Line is popular among younger generations for messaging, it has closed circles based on telephone address books. As for social networking, however, young Japanese prefer anonymity on Twitter over Facebook with their real names. In other words, due to changing population demographics and younger generations' social media preferences, future Japanese Internet campaigning runs the risk of false news, despite officials' efforts to limit anonymity and the associated risk of less credible actors spreading false information.

Openness and Vulnerability of Internet Campaigning

The Internet has both openness and vulnerability. In the 2016 election, a joint group of three US government intelligence agencies (FBI, CIA, and NSA) reported Russian hacking of the email systems of both Democrats and Republicans during the presidential campaign.27 Of course, Russia denied this activity. Moreover, President Trump did not deny the activity itself, but mentioned other foreign hacking activity by nations such as China,28 although the connection between President Trump and Russia, "Russiagate," is still being argued. Some reported that Russia helped Trump by leaking negative news on the Clinton campaign through Wikileaks. Furthermore, Russia may be able to threaten President Trump with negative information now that he has become president. This is due to the fact that there were hacks into both parties' systems during the presidential campaign but only information from the Democratic headquarters was leaked.29 This means that the vulnerabilities of the Internet can be exploited to threaten other countries' administrations.

Russia used new techniques during the US presidential election including trolls and micro-targeting. Robert Mueller, the individual currently leading the Special Counsel investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election, has indicted several Russian nationals and three Russian entities for their part in the scheme.30 Micro-targeting itself is marketing technology, but [End Page 33] it can be used by foreign agencies.31 Google found that Russian agents spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads aiming to spread disinformation across Google, which runs the world's largest online advertising business, including YouTube and advertising associated with Google search, Gmail, and the company's DoubleClick ad network. Facebook investigated and reported that some 10 million US users saw Russia-linked ads,32 while an additional 126 million American users may have seen content uploaded by Russia-based operatives over the past two years.33 There were a total of 50,258 automated accounts that Twitter identified as Russian-linked that tweeted election-related content during the election period.34 Targeting SNS, especially, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube may have been seen as particularly effective because of the extent to which American Internet users tend to access these sources for political information.

Intervening in foreign elections is certainly not a new concept. The United States and other countries have historically intervened in foreign countries' campaigns to influence them in support of their own interests. In interviews with NPR and CNN,35 Dr. Dov Levin, Fellow at the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, counted 36 cases from 1946 to 2000 in which the US intervened in foreign elections in Japan, West Germany, and Malaysia, among other nations.36 For example, the United States did not want Slobodan Milosevic, whom the United States considered a dictator, to stay in power in Serbia due to his disruption in Yugoslavia and his human rights violations. Therefore, it intervened in various ways in favor of the opposition candidate, Vojislav Kostunica. The United States provided funding for the opposition, along with training and campaigning aid. According to Levin's estimate, that assistance was crucial in enabling the opposition to win. Levin added that China and Hugo Chavez's Venezuela have also used this technique. Thus, a kind of virtual war was just moved from the ground and the airwaves to cyberspace.

Potential Courses of Action

According to a Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs-sponsored research report on cybersecurity and governance, Japan and the United States need to develop cybersecurity cooperation in terms of policies, law enforcement, and operations.37 If we extend this recommendation to campaigning, then security and intelligence services could evaluate and deter any campaign cyberattack that seeks to exploit the campaign headquarters and its supporters and prevent it from impacting election results by targeting voters. Second, both Japan and the US should deal with campaign cyberattacks by deterring foreign hackers and countries through punishment as soon as possible. Third, Internet campaigning [End Page 34] needs the help of professionals who can understand both the world of security and cyber community to protect democracy. Japan needs to learn from the recent US election cases and develop its own defense system against such subversive attacks. As the aforementioned details on Japanese society's online presence reveal, Japan may illustrate strategies to suppress fake news or to balance the political news during election campaigns in the United States.

On the other hand, strengthening cybersecurity too much can hurt the dynamism of cyberspace. For example, China's Great Firewall systems that censor and omit specific political words and contents from search engines, SNS, and even news sites, might be an effective solution from one point of view, but people cannot know and express any different ideas from its government under those conditions. In 2013, the United Nations (UN) Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) decided that the UN Charter can be "applicable" to cyberspace to maintain an open, secure, peaceful, and accessible information and communications technology environment.38 In 2017, however, the GGE failed to reach an agreement to apply the international law to cyber space due to the opposition of Russia and China.39


As noted, technology is a double-edged sword. The United States has few restrictions on Internet campaigning and a longer history of Internet use in elections. As for the openness and vulnerability of Internet campaigning, first, the three joint US government intelligence groups (FBI, CIA, and NSA) reported hackings by Russia on campaign headquarters during the 2016 US presidential campaign. Second, there were new techniques such as trolls and micro-targeting during campaigns. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were particularly targeted by Russia, because of American Internet users' tendencies to get their news from these sites.

On the other hand, the Japanese tend to receive news from television and print media even though Japanese Internet penetration is greater than the United States. More than 70 percent of Japanese prefer portal sites, which are likely to include news from both conservative and liberal factions. It is difficult for foreign fake news makers to join traditional portals such as Yahoo Japan. However, emergent aggregation sites, such as SmartNews, include an anonymous site such as 2-channel (5-channel), but also provide both foreign newspapers and domestic news sites. Thus, there are potential vulnerabilities in Japanese Internet sites, but they are somewhat balanced. However, the younger Japanese generation tends to have similar attitudes to those in the United States, in regard to preferences for anonymity on social media. Therefore, future Japanese Internet campaigning has the risk of spreading fake news. [End Page 35]

Japan has recently learned both the positive and negative effects of Internet campaigns from the United States. Japan can also offer examples of methods to reduce excessive polarization during Internet campaigns. Promoting specific portal sites to compare the information of both sides on the Internet might balance polarization and suppress the fake news, which has a similar mechanism to how the United States used to present its televised presidential debates. However, it may be difficult for the US to apply Japanese law. Under Japanese law, political campaigning is strongly regulated, campaign funds are provided evenly to opposite parties for equality, and real names and contact addresses must be attached to images and information on the Internet during the campaigns terms to avoid trolls and the spread of false information.

Cyberspace is especially vulnerable, making it easier for countries to interfere in Internet-based campaigns than in traditional campaigns. Three cybersecurity measures are recommended for Internet campaigning. First, security and intelligence services should evaluate and deter and prevent cyber-attacks from exploiting campaign headquarters and possibly impacting election results through targeting voters. Second, the administration should deal with campaign cyberattacks with legislation. Third, a new profession for Internet campaign manager should be introduced—someone who can understand both security and cyberspace to protect democracy. Therefore, Japan needs to learn these three lessons from the United States to be better protected from cyberattacks, not only for the regular workings of the Japan-US alliance but also for significant events, such as elections.

Last but not least, strengthening cyber security too much would likely hinder the dynamism of cyberspace. We should try to maintain cyberspace for free expression and the activity of citizens, even while also increasing security. The 2016 US battles in cyberspace are linked to international battles for freedom and democracy. Japan must learn the lessons from the US Internet election of 2016.

Asuka Matsumoto

Dr. Matsumoto is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies of SAIS, Johns Hopkins University, sponsored by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). She was previously a Research Fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), and also taught at the University of Kyushu as a project associate professor and at Japan Maritime Self Defense Force Command and Staff College and Musashi University in Tokyo, Japan as a lecturer.


1. US Department of State, "Joint Statement of the Japan-U.S. Cyber Dialogue," July 24, 2017,

2. Shoko Kiyohara, Kazuhiro Maeshima, and Diana Owen, eds., Internet Election Campaigns in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

3. This article describes the pre-Internet era right after the East Japan great earthquake: Mitsuo Yoshida and Asuka Matsumoto, "The Use of Social Media in Politics—Applications and Analyses," Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence, Vol 27 (1), January 2012, 43-50 [in Japanese].

5. Harumichi Yuasa, "Problems on introducing internet campaigns," Information Security Synthetic Science 5 (2013): 36-51. [in Japanese]

6. American FCC 313 was lifted and then abandoned for presidential debates, and the US expanded the political action committee and then super PAC in 2012. On the other hand, the Japanese official organization gives limited and equal political campaign funds to each party and candidate.

7. It was partially because Japan has a more intimate society and the Japanese people tend to separate politically correct statements (tatemae) with their names from their intentions (honne) without names. They continue to avoid voicing loud extremist views from either the liberal and the conservative sides.

8. Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications of Japan,

9. Even Journal of Democracy, which generally emphasizes the democracy of developing and post-communist countries, focused on the crisis of American democracy in the era of Internet campaigning. William Galston John Sides, Michael Tesler, and Lynn Vavreck, James Ceaser, Nathaniel Persily, and Charles Stewart III eds., "The 2016 U.S. Election" Journal of Democracy, National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press, Volume 28, Number 2, April 2017.

10. Asuka Matsumoto, "Political Speech," American Cultural Dictionary, Japan Association of American Studies, 2018 [in Japanese].

11. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Cappella Joseph N. Cappella, Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Eytan Bakshy, Solomon Messing, Lada A. Adamic, "Exposure to ideologically diverse news and opinion on Facebook," Science, 348, (2015): 1130-1132.

12. Andrew Guess, Brendan Nyhan, and Jason Reifler, "Selective Exposure to Misinformation: Evidence from the Consumption of Fake News during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Campaign," European Research Council, January 9, 2018.

13. As for political polarization, please see Morihiro Ogasahara, "Chapter 4 Media Environments in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan" in Shoko Kiyohara, Kazuhiro Maeshima, and Diana Owen, eds., Internet Election Campaigns in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). This chapter concluded that when citizens passively accept stable political environments, it is economically rational for the mainstream media to maintain political neutrality, as this will allow them to attract a larger audience. Considering the historical context outlined in contrast to the United States, Korea, and Taiwan, the media environment in Japan should be categorized as not politically polarized.

14. Shoko Kiyohara, Kazuhiro Maeshima, and Diana Owen, eds., Internet Election Campaigns in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

15. Pew Research Center, "The 2016 Presidential Campaign—a News Event That's Hard to Miss," February 4, 2016,

16. Pew Research "News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016," May 26, 2016,

17. "The 10th National public opinion polls about media," 2017,

18. "The 8th National public opinion polls about media," 2015, Although Japanese tend to learn news from traditional media than Americans, Japanese prefers soft news such as sports or entertainment than hard news such as politics and economics.

19. Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, "Ideological segregation online and offline," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 126, (2011): 1799-1839; "The 10th National public opinion polls about media," 2017,; From 20s to 70s, 80% of Japanese gain Internet news from portal sites, although teenagers prefer news of SNS and those in their 80s prefer website of traditional newspaper.

20. "New Economy; Yahoo charts the spread of the news by e-mail, and what it finds out is itself becoming news." New York Times, January 29, 2001,

22. SmartNews launched a fact check project with BuzzFeed Japan, Japan InDepth, etc. for the Lower House election in 2017, because they realized that it has become more difficult to avoid fake news with only algorithms and because they were shocked by the adverse role of fake news during the US election in 2016. "A move of SmartNews to avoid the spread of fake news" Nik- kei, November 21, 2017.

27. Asuka Matsumoto "The New Trump Administration and the Change of Foreign Policies," JIIA, Domestic Factors Influencing US Foreign Policy, Mar 2017; "Background to "Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution," Intelligence Community Assessment, January 6, 2017, https://www.intelligence.senate.g.,ov/sites/default/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf.

28. "Putin Led a Complex Cyberattack Scheme to Aid Trump, Report Finds," The New York Times, January 6, 2017,

29. "On Intelligence and Russian Hacking, Are Trump and His Team Missing the Point?" NPR, January 6, 2017,

30. "The Full Text of Mueller's Indictment of 13 Russians: The special counsel indicted the Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly interfering in the 2016 presidential election, the Department of Justice announced Friday," the Atlantic, February 16, 2018.

32. "Facebook says 10 million U.S. users saw Russia-linked ads," Reuters, October 2, 2017,

33. "Russia-linked posts 'reached 126m Facebook users in US'" BBC,

34. "Update on Twitter's Review of the 2016 U.S. Election," Twitter, Updated on January 31, 2018, They represent approximately two one-hundredths of a percent (0.016%) of the total accounts on Twitter at the time.

35. "Database Tracks History of U.S. Meddling in Foreign Elections," NPR, December 22, 2016,

36. Dov H. Levin "When the Great Power Gets A Vote: The Effects of Great Power Electoral Interventions on Election Results," International Studies Quarterly, 60(2) (2016):189-202; International Studies Quarterly, Volume 61, Issue 3, 1 September 2017, Pages 746-747, He didn't count and discount covert coup d'etats like the United States did in Iran in 1953 or in Guatemala in 1954.

37. Akiyama Nobumasa and Asuka Matsumoto, "Summary," New Challenges for Japan-US alliance on Global Commons (Cyber space, Space, Arctic) (JIIA, Foreign and security research project sponsored by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 2013). See the summary of both Chapter 2 (cyber security) of Hidehisa Kawaguchi and Chapter 3 (cyber governance) of Taiyo Tsuchiya.

38. Chapter 3 Taiyo Tsuchiya "Governance in Cyber Space" New Challenges for Japan-US Alliance on Global Commons (Cyber space, Space, Arctic) (JIIA, Foreign and security research project sponsored by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 2013).

39. "Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 23 December 2015" [on the report of the First Committee (A/70/455)] 2015.; Elaine Korzak, "UN GGE on Cybersecurity: The End of an Era? What the apparent GGE failure means for international norms and confidence-building measures in cyberspace," The Diplomat, July 31, 2017,

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