Social media and politics have an unstable relationship to say the least. Some politicians, like Barack Obama or Twittering British MP Tom Watson, have harnessed online communication to great effect but for the most part the political world has struggled to adjust to the way the social web operates.
Just take a look at Japan; today sees the start of its national election season, a time when you would think candidates would be frantically blogging and tweeting away to win votes. Instead, they’re banned from online campaigning of any kind. As PC World reports, the 59-year old Public Offices Election Law restricts the use of literature and images in campaigning. As the internet became more popular the law was seen to apply there too.
The law is designed to strictly regulate election campaigning so that all candidates are on an equal footing – having more money doesn’t mean you can publish more posters and campaigning leaflets than your rival. It makes sense in theory but means that Japan is a long way behind countries like the USA, where Howard Dean pioneered social media campaigning tactics in 2004. After all, there’s no financial barrier to online campaigning – it’s one of the cheapest forms of advertising there is. As long as you have the time and the skills you can generate a following online – money is not a factor.
With a change of government looking likely in Japan, the law may soon be overturned and more open attitude to the internet introduced. This is an example of politics slowly but surely reacting to a changing social landscape that will alter the way politics is conducted forever.
In the UK, Prime Minister Gordon Brown was ridiculed for his use of Youtube recently (there’s a nice summary here). Although Brown failed to make the impact he intended, it was an example of part of a lengthy trial-and-error process that all politicians are going through. As time goes on, mistakes are made and lessons are learnt, we will end up with a radically different, and hopefully far more engaging, form of politics than we’ve ever seen before and that can only be good for everyone.
[Image: Japanese election mascots by M-louis on Flickr]