Agitators in Japan Using Twitter to Amplify Fringe Opinions

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A view of the Twitter logo at its corporate headquarters in San Francisco

Among the top 10 protest movements on Twitter last year, half of all related posts were generated by less than 10% of the users involved in the campaigns, according to an analysis by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Such campaigns have spread rapidly since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and claims made by a small portion of users have been amplified, according to the analysis.

Calls to post tweets with a particular hashtag at a certain time and date have triggered online protest movements, with some campaigns appearing on the platform’s list of trending topics on the homepage and elsewhere.

In 2017, Twitter had about 45 million users in Japan. The simplicity of the service has made it a popular platform for protest movements.

However, the number of posts is not always proportional to the number of users, as tweeters can have multiple accounts and post large numbers of messages.

With the cooperation of Tokyo-based data analysis company JX Press Corp., The Yomiuri Shimbun selected the top 10 protest movements that trended on Twitter from January to November 2022.

Topping the list was a hashtag against former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s state funeral, which appeared on the trending topics section 14 times with a total of 646,296 posts.

A closer look revealed that of the 90,687 accounts that posted tweets with the hashtag, 3,340 — or 3.7% — were responsible for half of the posts. A total of 4,219 tweets were linked to one account, and 10 accounts were responsible for more than 1,000 tweets.

Second on the list was a hashtag against welfare benefits for foreigners, which appeared in the trending section 11 times with a total of 358,790 posts. Of the 69,555 accounts that included the hashtag, 4,170 — or 6% — were responsible for half of the posts.

Among the 10 campaigns analyzed, an average of 9.4% of accounts were responsible for half of the posts.

“On the internet, people with strong opinions tend to publish a lot of information, and the same is true for Twitter protest movements,” said econometrics expert Shinichi Yamaguchi, an associate professor at the International University of Japan.

“If people don’t understand that online public opinion does not accurately represent public opinion, we run the risk of being overly influenced by strong views and making bad decisions.”