There have been numerous postings on the Internet of unverified information on a candidate in the Okinawa gubernatorial election on Sept. 30, including an alleged criminal offense. Such information is being shared without verification and going viral. A certain Diet member posted information “to stop the election” of this candidate and a former local leader commented: “Is that true?!” and shared it without verification.
Spreading false or distorted information for the purpose of stopping specific candidates from being elected is punishable under the Public Office Election Law. According to a lawyer knowledgeable about the Internet, while it is ultimately up to the police to decide whether to prosecute for libel or violation of the election law, there is risk of indictment if the suspect is unable to prove that the posts are factual.
Even before the start of the official campaign period, a story insinuating that Denny Tamaki, who was expected to run in the election, was involved in a criminal offense in the past appeared on a certain website.
In response to Ryukyu Shimbun’s queries, the “former CEO and president” cited in the report to have knowledge of Tamaki’s illegal acts both denied the report, calling it “complete lies” and stating that their names were used without permission.
A former local leader posted the comment, “Is that true?!” on his Facebook page and shared the report without verifying it. In response to our query, he said: “I did so because I don’t know whether it was true or not. It is questionable that he has become the subject of rumors.”
Three days after he became aware of this report on the Internet, Tamaki filed a complaint with the Naha Police Department for libel without identifying the suspect.
Another website carried video footage defaming Tamaki and the late Governor Takeshi Onaga. A Diet member whose Twitter account has over 30,000 followers retweeted one of the videos for the stated purpose of “stopping” Tamaki’s election. In response, Tamaki tweeted a denial of the contents of the video.
When asked about this unverified video, this Diet member said: “If there are questions about the truth of this video, you should talk to the person who created it,” indicating that he holds no responsibility. To the question whether his action violates the election law, he said: “If what I did is illegal, this must be pointed out to me. I am not aware that there has been any complaint.”
The Public Office Election Law indeed penalizes the circulation of false information. However, prosecution ultimately depends on the police’s judgment and on whether a complaint has been filed by the election administration commission. In reality, the laws are inadequate to deal with the spread of unverified information on the Internet.
Meanwhile, the campaign office of Atsushi Sakima told this paper that as of Sept 25, there had been no cases of libel against Sakima. The election administration commission also said on the same day that it was not aware of any illegal online exchanges on the gubernatorial election violating the election law. (Slightly abridged)