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Fake information and slurs apparently targeting certain candidates running for House of Representatives seats are flooding the internet, misleading voters ahead of the general election set for Sunday.

In the offline world, anonymous documents with unconfirmed information are distributed every time an election approaches. Eight years since online campaigning was given the green light, that tradition has now become part of the online sphere too, as social media services such as Twitter become indispensable tools for candidates.

"I wrote a blog as a fictitious person to cause reputational damage to the contenders," an online contractor said in a statement read in October last year, during the trial of former House of Councilors member Anri Kawai over a large-scale vote-buying scandal for the 2019 Upper House election.

At the instruction of former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, Anri's husband, the contractor posted an online comment claiming that the Hiroshima prefectural chapter of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party was bullying her and trying to make her lose the election, according to the statement.

The contractor also said the person made comments critical of Katsuyuki Kawai less likely to appear in online search results ahead of the 2017 Lower House election.

A blank poster board ready to display candidate's campaign materials for the upcoming Lower House election in Yokohama on Oct. 14 | KYODO
A blank poster board ready to display candidate’s campaign materials for the upcoming Lower House election in Yokohama on Oct. 14 | KYODO

More recently, an Upper House member of an opposition party has filed a lawsuit against a company believed to be operating a Twitter account, claiming that the company posted fake tweets and damaged the lawmaker's reputation.

The Public Offices Election Act prohibits acts of publishing false content with the aim of making candidates lose elections. In reality, however, the internet is awash with comments that may or may not be true but can affect voter behavior.

Social media operators in Japan have tightened their oversight of online comments since the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The Yahoo! News site started displaying a statement calling on users commenting on political news not to break the law.

Acts intended to damage the reputation of electoral candidates are becoming more widespread on the internet, just as anonymous documents are distributed before elections, said Takuma Ohamazaki, representative of Tokyo-based election consulting company J.A.G. Japan Corp.

During the ongoing campaign for the Lower House election, one candidate has seen false information about their campaign disseminated, according to Ohamazaki. Such fake information includes an allegation about a minor in a campaign van and another about the campaign's relations with people involved in religion.

"It's hard to tell whether it's part of election maneuvering or just the misunderstandings of ordinary people," Ohamazaki said.

"Information on the web is not just truth and lies," he said, adding that there is also truth and lies mixed in varying degrees.

Ohamazaki pointed to the importance of voters thinking about why people are posting such comments, and sifting through information.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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