Bright Light and Dark Shadow: Current Topics about Social Media in Japan

Takeo city--a role model for the introduction of social media into Japanese government offices ((C)The Sankei Shimbun & Sankei Digital)

As I wrote previously, the number of social media users in Japan has been dramatically expanding since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. However, anywhere there is a bright light, there has to be a dark shadow. This blog post is about current topics about social media in my country, Japan, to show the brightness and darkness of the new communication tools.

Social Media Enhances the Visibility and Transparency of a Local Government

Takeo city—a small town in western Japan famous for its hot springs—is a role model for the proactive and successful introduction of social media into government offices. Under the mayor’s initiative, the city migrated its official website to Facebook (Japanese language only) last August. Since then, the number of monthly hits to the city‘s  home page has steeply risen from 50,000 to 3.3 million. The city has received positive reactions from citizens. After the city posted a picture of a swollen river taken with a mobile phone, a citizen commented that the timely post was helpful to understand the situation. In addition, the mayor required all 390 city workers to create their own Facebook accounts and to use them for their work starting from April this year. The mayor, Keisuke Watanabe, says in an interview (Japanese only) that the use of Facebook has made the interaction with citizens more visible, and cuts red tape.

Social Media and Criminal Investigation

Social media is rivaling 911 services in crisis response and reporting. As the Rutger University student’s case shows, social media’s role in police investigations is growing. Like the U.S., the new communication platform has become a mainstay in police work in Japan.

The Yomiuri Shimbun–the largest Japanese newspaper and among the world’s most dominant (it sells 14 million copies daily1)–reported (Japanese only) that, using a YouTube video posted by a suspect, the local police in Hyogo prefecture were investigating a crime. The video shows a driver–the suspect–chasing a school boy on a bicycle along a river and shouting to the boy in a threatening tone, “I’m hitting and pushing you into the river!” Reports to the police from viewers of the video helped reveal the identity of the suspect , according to the news.

ISP Steals Users’ Information

On April 4, connectFree k.k. (Japanese only), a Japanese Internet service provider (ISP) led by an American CEO, was reported (Japanese only) to have collected users’ information without their approval, and to have invaded privacy of communication stipulated in the Telecommunications Business Act. The ISP provides users with wireless access to the Internet at convenience stores. The company admits to secretly gathering users’ data, including their Facebook and Twitter user IDs. According to the company, it collected the information to identify suspects in case its network was used for crimes

According to a report on TED 2012, a new browser enables us to know who is tracking us online. The report says, “We are being watched. It’s now time for us to watch the watchers.” Social media’s role is growing in many areas. We must monitor the use of the new communication tools by both public and private sectors, so that they do not go beyond public safety limits or invade individual privacy.

Privacy invasion is not an acceptable price to pay for access to the Internet.

1. Seitel, F. (2011). The Practice of Public Relations. NJ: Prentice Hall

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