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Demand from politicians weak despite potential

Online electioneering no boon for Net firms

JIJI

Despite high expectations, the approval of online election campaigning hasn’t generated a lot of extra business for Internet services companies.

The July 21 House of Councilors election is the first in which online campaigning has been permitted. But the market isn’t turning out to be that big, an industry source said.

Only 50 to 100 Internet-related companies are believed to have developed and promoted specialized services for politicians since the legal revision that ended the ban on online electioneering was finally approved in April, the source said.

Sales campaigns targeting political parties and candidates have been hawking everything from website construction and email delivery to social media management and measures to deal with Internet slander.

“Party staff had to deal with so many cold calls that they were unable do any other work until early June,” a staff member at the headquarters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said.

The official campaigning period kicked off Thursday.

But the online electioneering guidelines, jointly drawn up by the ruling and opposition camps, say that any money paid for writing copy or text for websites and email is likely to be viewed as vote-buying. This could cause candidates to lose their seats even if they win, due to the guilt-by-association rules of election campaigns.

This appears to have led many candidates to turn down such services. Internet firms are also growing cautious about getting too involved, an official at a telecommunications-related firm said.

The NTT Communications Corp. group has concluded a contract with the LDP to collect and analyze all Twitter accounts messages and blog posts. It provides a service that automatically alerts the party to potential problems if a rapid increase in tweets is observed, but does not give specific advice on how or what to tweet about, since doing so could violate election rules.

Together with other Internet businesses, Yahoo Japan Corp. is offering free authentication services to the parties to prove the email they send isn’t bogus. The service is free as Yahoo thinks it is important to show the Internet is safe for electioneering, a company official said.

But it also views the Upper House poll as a golden opportunity for advertising, its main business. “It will not give discounts just because clients are political parties,” the official said.