National

FactCheck Initiative Japan NPO uncovers dodgy claims from Abe and others ahead of July vote

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

FactCheck Initiative Japan, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization that analyzes information provided by politicians, has found issues with a number of claims that were made in relation to the July 21 Upper House election.

Of the 11 claims of false or misleading statements and information it investigated in connection with the vote, five were found to be “inaccurate,” four were “erroneous” or suspected as such, one was “misleading” and one was suspected of being a fake video.

The Tokyo-based NPO, established in 2017, collaborates with media organizations to track down claims made in campaign statements or political broadcasts, or on social media, that are suspected of being false. At a presentation in Kyoto on Sunday, Hitofumi Yanai, FIJ’s executive director and lawyer, presented the group’s conclusions and explained how it had classified the different statements.

The group defines as “inaccurate” cases when correct and incorrect information were found mixed together and found to be lacking accuracy as a whole, while cases where fundamental errors are found in all or essential parts of statements are classified as “erroneous.”

Of the 11 claims investigated, made before the election, FIJ found five statements to be inaccurate. These included a statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who said that if U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma were relocated to Henoko in Okinawa, flight routes would change from above a residential area to over the sea. The group also judged as inaccurate a claim by Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui that Osaka nursery schools and kindergartens were being made free for all of Osaka, and a claim by Liberal Democratic Party candidate Junko Mihara regarding the pension system.

Reiwa Shinsengumi head Taro Yamamoto was judged to have made two inaccurate statements, both regarding the upcoming hike in the consumption tax. The remaining seven claims were judged to be either erroneous, misleading, or — in the case of one visual image related to an LDP campaign poster that appeared on Twitter — possibly fake.

“FactCheck Initiative Japan has different ratings about the factual accuracy of the information it investigates. If the facts are correct and no essential elements are judged to be missing, the information is labeled as ‘correct.’ If a part of the information is found to be incorrect but the most important parts are correct, it’s labeled as ‘almost correct,’ ” Yanai said.

“Misleading” means that the information can’t be said to be different from the facts on first glance, but that with a sensational headline or important facts left out, there is a lot of room for misunderstanding.

Other ratings include “lie,” meaning all or part of the base statement is false and there are strong suspicions the claim was conveyed by a person who knew there was no factual basis for it. “Witholding judgment” means the truth was difficult to determine and that while the possibility of an error isn’t strong, it cannot be denied.

Finally, there’s a rating for “outside the scope of the investigation,” which is given to opinions or values, meaning that their veracity can’t be proven — at least to the satisfaction of FIJ.

Even as efforts by NPOs like FIJ are on the increase globally, there are calls in many parts of the world to regulate and monitor social media, in particular, more closely. Governments such as Malaysia, Singapore, Germany, France and Russia have made various attempts to control the spread of fake news via legislation.

But Yanai said nongovernmental efforts by private groups and concerned individuals were the way to go.

“Misinformation and false information can’t be eradicated and regulation is dangerous. Through autonomous efforts, we should aim to weaken and naturally weed out misinformation,” he said.

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