By Monoko Inoue, Daichi Ito, Uasukazu Akada, and Seiko Sadakuni
Fake news and conspiracy theories surrounding the last U.S. Presidential election have spread in Japan’s internet communities and elsewhere.
A few days after the Capitol insurrection, a post on Japanese Twitter went viral among supporters of former President Donald Trump: “It was a U.S. Marine special operation unit that confiscated Pelosi’s laptop!”
Although U.S. media determined this to be false, the post was retweeted over 3,000 times. “I retweet what I empathize with,” said a 19-year-old college freshman living in the Tokai area, who retweeted the comment. He opened his Twitter account about three years ago to read and write about his favorite music groups. He became interested in politics after he watched a film about Kamikaze pilots in his high school class.
“Only few of my friends are into politics,” he says. He has a favorable impression of Trump because of his “hardline attitude toward China” and his comments on North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals. Mass media, he says, is “biased and controls our opinions.”
Many YouTube viewers are also familiar with conspiracy theories in the U.S. A self-proclaimed “expert on contemporary Chinese issues” has an account that boasts 230,000 registered followers. He posted on Jan.11 a video clip claiming that “[Former Senator Hillary] Clinton was arrested.” The post received 1.14 million views as of Jan. 22. The post was later deleted; he commented on his account, “It seems that the information was fake.”
The individual opened the account last August to post clips on contemporary China issues, which received several thousand views. Since the U.S. election, he started posting quotes from U.S. websites, such as “Democrats colluded with the FBI to steal the election.” These posts have received 50,000 to 1 million views, including ones that were later deleted.
This individual has the same name as a researcher at a national university. Asked whether they are the same person, the university refused to answer, saying it is a “matter of privacy.” The person himself hasn’t responded to an inquiry by email.
Many of the current conspiracy theories originated with “Q Anon,” and there is a Japanese community that supports the group. Japanese translations and explanations of Q Anon’s remarks are published on the community website to enable Japanese followers to read the newest conspiracy theories introduced in the U.S. After Twitter Japan froze the community’s main members’ accounts in accordance with rules on “collusive malign activity,” they migrated to another SNS site.
Journalist Shoko Egawa points out that cult-like “dualistic thinking” is behind the spread of fake news and dubious information.
“When Aum Shinrikyo suffered a devastating loss in a Lower House election, it claimed the votes had been switched and the election was tainted. The Aum followers believed that,” Egawa said, adding, “Conspiracy theories make interesting stories and grab people’s attention. We should never underestimate the spread of false information and conspiracy stories.” And she warned, “It is extremely dangerous that more people believe conspiracy theories and fake information as they get used to hearing them. We only have to remember what happened with Aum Shinrikyo.” (Abridged)