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How fake news spread during Japan’s 2017 lower house election

By Hiroyuki Fujishiro, Associate Professor at Hosei University and the Founder of the Japan Center of Education for Journalists

In Japan, the dissemination of mis- and disinformation has been accelerated by online media platforms including one of the most popular news portal sites in the country, while traditional media channels continue to play down its impact on social media users. During the country’s lower house election in late 2017, the Japan Center of Education for Journalists (JCEJ) and a dozen of students at Hosei University launched a collaborative verification project to delve into the ecosystem surrounding the so-called “fake news” in Japan.


Five debunks

The project was launched as soon as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resolved the House of Representatives on Sept. 28, 2017. Through Oct. 23, 2017, a total of nine Hosei University students majoring in Media Studies monitored Twitter and Facebook every day in search for questionable information associated with the election. The students used various queries including names of political parties and candidates to search for possible misinformation.

A total of 275 items of social media content were collected over the course of roughly a month. Each student limited the time of web searching to one hour per day, but more questionable claims and articles would have been found if they had spent more time.

JCEJ sent out daily emails containing questionable social media posts gathered by students to 19 collaborating journalists at national and local newspapers as well as TV broadcasts. The journalists received a total of 195 questionable social media content and posts, excluding incorrect reports by major media outlets and remarks by politicians that we did not intend to fact check in the project. JCEJ then posted a total of five items debunked by three or more journalists on its blog.

The following chart shows details of the five pieces of content labeled as “debunked(フェイク判定)”, their original sources, and which platforms they were mainly disseminated.


Chart: A list of debunked social media content
How false content on opposition and ruling parties spread differently

Four of the five items debunked by three or more journalists were related to opposition parties. However, when observing other questionable items which we did not post on the JCEJ blog, we noticed that there was also a fair amount of dubious claims associated with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by Prime Minister Abe. In fact, 47 items were related to the LDP, 45 to the Party of Hope, 27 to the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, 19 to the Communist Party, 16 to the now-disbanded Democratic Party, 6 to the Japan Innovation Party, and 3 to the Komeito party, the LDP coalition partner.

By candidate, 33 were questionable posts related to Prime Minister Abe, 27 to Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, the former leader of the Party of Hope, 9 to the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano, and 6 to Kiyomi Tsujimoto of the main opposition party.

It is worth mentioning that although we had more questionable social media content related to the ruling LDP and Prime Minister Abe, the debunked items that circulated widely online were mostly associated with opposition parties. For example, there were only six questionable posts and articles collected about the main opposition party’s Tsujimoto –- the former senior deputy secretary-general of the now-disbanded Democratic Party of Japan -- but two of them were labeled as fake.


A screenshot from J-CAST News Twitter account

Although we are conducting further research on this point, fake content related to the ruling party may generate less engagement among internet users compared to that of opposition parties. For example, an article we debunked by J-CAST News, falsely claimed both in its title and content that Tsujimoto went insane and lost her mind during the election campaign period, which was carried by Yahoo News Japan, the country’s biggest news portal.

The false article was then further disseminated through other websites and news aggregation websites. Meanwhile, the spread of political rumors about the ruling LDP and its candidates seem to have been limited within Twitter. Japan’s online media tend to be energized by rumors surrounding opposition parties and its politicians.

Challenges in the debunking process

We only published five debunks by the end of the project. This is partly because the collaborating journalists considered the debunking process fairly time-consuming and complex. For example, in attempting to debunk the article which falsely claimed that Tsujimoto had applied for an official recognition by the Party of Hope, it was not enough to verify with Tsujimoto herself. Very often politicians do not provide journalists the truth, while political situations could develop faster without the candidate knowing about it. Debunking rumors requires journalists to contact multiple sources before reaching accurate judgments.

Despite journalists having to engage in vast amount of work during the debunking process, debunked content is often not considered newsworthy in Japan. One of the participating journalists admitted that “(False news that circulates online) are beneath our notice in light of the existing criteria for what makes news. It’s hard for us to generate stories on them.” In fact, although some media outlets were interested in our project, no newspapers or TV broadcasts directly mentioned or reported the actual content of any of the five debunked items.

Meanwhile, online platforms were disseminating mis- and disinformation about certain political candidates during the election campaign period. This is due to irresponsible internet companies who claim being simply platforms, but not news media. Fake news continues to be disseminated by online media, but neglected by traditional media.


A pair of debunked Twitter posts claiming it is illegal for non-Japanese residents to participate in election campaigns
A “cluster” of accounts connected through fake content and filter bubbles

“That politician is a satellite of Xi Jinping.” “Half of the politicians of the four opposition parties are from South and North Koreas.” These were a typical of questionable social media claims we saw.

Some journalists who participated in our project were astonished to see such claims being shared widely as these types of social posts would usually not be found on their timelines. Others played it down, saying nobody would believe such rubbish.

The journalists asked if younger generations such as the students who monitored social media throughout the election campaign would often encounter these types of rumors, but none of the students had never seen such information on their timelines either. “This would drive me crazy if I kept watching (the posts),” said one of the students.

We also found that there are clusters of Twitter accounts that actively share and retweet articles on websites that carry fake news. None of us knew about these accounts before the project, because neither journalists nor students had followed these accounts: filter bubbles had most likely prevented us from spotting them.


* * *

Disclaimer: This blog post is based on the article published in the 2018 February issue of GALAC (Housou-Hihyou-Kondankai), “Fake news surrounding the lower house election: measures to combat disinformation and the challenges.” The original article in Japanese was edited and translated by Hiroyuki Fujishiro and Kayo Mimizuka.


Our project was featured in articles by Nieman Lab and The Straits Times (via Kyodo News). 



「APAC Trusted Media Summit 2018」にJCEJ運営委員が参加しました

アジア太平洋地域のファクトチェック団体などが取り組みを共有する「APAC Trusted Media Summit 2018」が7月23日〜27日、シンガポールで開催されました。日本ジャーナリスト教育センター(JCEJ)からも運営委員が参加し、8月10日には東京都内で報告会を行いました。




















朝日新聞記者の関根和弘さん(ハフポスト日本版ニュースエディター)は「ガイドの中で一番役立つと思っている。(記者の仕事の中で)膨大な数の失敗を積み重ねて(学んで)きたので、参考にしてほしい」。 沖縄タイムス記者の與那覇里子さんは「方言は効果的だけれど、そのままでは伝わらない」とポイントを解説しました。









【終了しました】「フェイクニュースから見るデータ社会のインテリジェンス」 ~プラットフォーム企業、広告モデル、民主主義のあり方~

日本ジャーナリスト教育センター(JCEJ)は、「A Field Guide to Fake News and Other Information Disorders」の日本語版「フェイクニュース調査のためのフィールドガイド」の公開を機に、政策分析ネットワークと共催し、フェイクニュースとデータ社会のあり方について考えるイベントを開催します。

<開催趣旨> フェイスブックからデータを収集したケンブリッジアナリティカによるアメリカ大統領選挙における世論操作、ロシアによるフェイスブックツイッターの広告を利用したプロパガンダが大きな問題となっています。プラットフォーム企業によるデータ収集と利用、それを支える広告システムが、民主主義社会を揺るがし、企業のリスクにもなっています。国内でも文具専門店の伊東屋がデータ活用方法に賛同できないと、フェイスブックページの閉鎖を決めています。その一方、データ活用を国家的に推進するロシアや中国とどのように対峙するかという問題もあります。プラットフォームへの規制、広告のあり方、ジャーナリズムの役割、インテリジェンス、などについて幅広く議論します。


場所:新日本有限責任監査法人・第1セミナールーム :(日比谷国際ビル5階:千代田区内幸町2-2-3)






NHK報道局ネットワーク報道部副部長 足立義則


日本経済新聞編集委員 奥平和行


株式会社企(くわだて)代表 クロサカタツ


スプラウト代表取締役 高野聖


JCEJ代表運営委員 藤代裕之

ジャーナリスト、法政大学准教授。著書にフェイクニュースとネットの構造を取材した『ネットメディア覇権戦争 - 偽ニュースはなぜ生まれたか』


全体進行係:政策分析ネットワーク事務局長 田幸大輔  

【政策分析ネットワークについて】 「立法・行政(中央省庁/地方自治体)・ 民間企業・大学・シンクタンク・マスコミ・ NPO/NGO有識者」などの政策関係者による、 様々な政策課題(社会課題)について、 「政策議論(建設的な官民政策対話)」と 「官民人的交流」の促進を図るための、 「官民連携型:政策プラットフォーム」。1999年4月設立、代表:東京大学名誉教授 伊藤元重





































東京都千代田区紀尾井町1-3 東京ガーデンテラス内 株式会社ヤフーのコワーキングスペース「LODGE」(当日は東京ガーデンテラス2階のエントランスから18階のイベント専用受付にお越しください)


関根和弘 朝日新聞記者(ハフポスト日本版ニュースエディター)
田中輝美 ローカルジャーナリスト
山田雅俊 コムラボ 代表理事
那覇里子 沖縄タイムス記者






JCEJ provides resources to help journalists in social media coverage

Japan Center of Education for Journalists (JCEJ) offers various resources to help journalists cover and investigate online content in the digital age. We've recently translated two guides into Japanese. They are both freely available on our website

A Field Guide to 'Fake News'

Our latest translation project features A Field Guide to 'Fake News' and Other Information Disorders, a work by Public Data Lab. It contains digital methods to help investigate dissemination of misleading content, trolling activities, political memes and other issues related to recent conversation around 'fake news' and social media trust. 


A team of JCEJ members and journalists translated the guide as part of our research project on dis- and misinformation in Japan, with permission of Public Data Lab. We raised funds for our translation through crowdfunding

Here's a comment from Jonathan Gray, one of the guide's authors and lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London / cofounder of the Public Data Lab;

We’re delighted to see the Japanese translation of the Field Guide to ‘Fake News’ and Other Information Disorders”. Through its various recipes we hope to inspire investigations and experiments not only around misleading content, but also the platforms, infrastructures and algorithms through which they are shared, quantified, monetised and through which they gain their viral character. Recent events serve as a reminder that this remains a vital area for research, reporting, public debate and public policy - and we look forward to seeing how the guide is used in Japan.

A Journalist's Guide to Social Sources 

We've also translated A Journalist's Guide to Working With Social Sources written by Claire Wardle, executive director at First Draft, a project of the Soreinstein Center. The Japanese-language version of the handbook has been used by a number of Japanese media organizations for in-house training. 


On the release of the Japanese-language version, Claire commented as follows;

I wrote the Guide to Social Sources as we kept hearing journalists asking the same questions about the challenges of using images and videos that they were finding on social media in their reporting. We decided to answer the ten main questions in one handbook. We have received really positive feedback about the handbook and we're so pleased to see it translated into Japanese.


We hope to further expand our collaboration with journalists and researchers around the world to share knowlege and experiences on journalism skills. 

For our research project on 'fake news' in Japan, please also see the blog post below.