I made the following tweet on Twitter the other day.
"It's just a tweet, but I find it extremely sad that people at the top of the political and business worlds are using Twitter just to relay TV drama episodes or publicize their own companies. The fact that more than 100,000 users are following those leaders seems strange, too. I would like to ask them to use their influence to make proposals for bettering Japan."
I once wrote a column titled "The Davos Meeting – Where Public Opinion is Shaped". The Davos Meeting is a place where a top-down approach is used to form public opinion. Representatives from international agencies, political leaders, central bank governors, and leading figures from financial, religious and academic circles all gather at this meeting. Media from around the world report their discussions. The opinions expressed at the Davos Meeting set the agenda for the next 12 months and shape public opinion.
I consider Twitter and blogs as places where grassroots public opinion, which approach differs entirely from the consensus reached at the Davos gathering, is formed. I didn't feel blogs were powerful enough to play such a role on their own. But I'm beginning to feel the great potential now that Twitter has joined.
Opinions expressed by individuals had never reached a large audience in the age of mass media, unless the media took up to report them. However, with the evolution of information technology, the power of mass media has started to weaken in relative terms to that of the aggregates power of individual opinions. In other words, we are returning to ancient Greece where public opinion was shaped at the roadside discussion. At present, with IT, a tremendous number of viral transmissions (word-of-mouth communication) are connecting and, thereby, generating the power of public opinion.
Twitter, in particular, allows us to deliver opinions to many people at once by making retweets and responding. As a result, tweets (opinions) followed by many people can play a significant role in the process of forming public opinion. There is no precedent. I see great potential for that reason.
As Hypothesis Four of my "Seven Twitter Hypotheses," I wrote, "Personal information will outstrip information supplied by the mass media." Evolving this hypothesis further, I've been thinking lately that "the major field where public opinion is formed will move to Twitter, blogs and the like." The mass media used to shape public opinion with a lot of coverage. From this point on, Twitter will play this role. It will become the principal battlefield in the near future, when more people start using the service.
According to the latest data, Twitter users account for about 3-4% of our total population in Japan. I believe that the gravity of the place where public opinion is shaped will start moving to cyberspace once this rate goes over 10%. In view of this possibility, it's a waste not to use this "weapon," which anyone can access freely. In particular, Twitter is bound to become a powerful weapon for leaders who have many followers. That's why I find the current practice of leaders "wasteful" and made the tweet introduced at the beginning of this entry.
Basically, Twitter's strengths are its looseness and freedom. I agree the tweet introduced at the beginning of this entry was not essentially appropriate to make in view of these merits. However, from my point of view, expressing no opinion is extremely wasteful, just like giving up the right to vote.
When we express our opinions, we receive many questions and criticisms. But this gives us the chance to learn about different opinions and recognize shortcomings in our thinking. In the meantime, we can receive warm encouragement from many people through tweets and blog comments. The nice thing about Twitter is that slanderous comments are very few, compared with electronic bulletin boards I have used. I feel comfortable stating my opinions on Twitter.
Will Twitter become the field where public opinion is formed? My answer to the question is, "Yes, definitely." ,because Twitter has actually proven that role in China. The mass media is not been widely trusted in China because of the strict media censorship in the country. In this situation, intellectuals are gaining information from the Internet (though websites are also subject to very strict censorship in China). A friend of mine in China once murmured to me, "I've never checked seriously, but there are about one million Twitter and blog followers in China. So, I'm scared to make any comments." The friend feels that way because a single tweet can prompt many people to act and to stand up.
The day will come before long in Japan when public opinion is formed on the web. The public opinion is to be shaped by opinion leaders with sound judgment. It will not be in the hands of (popular TV personality) Monta Mino or any journalist. Those of you reading this opinion now may become opinion leaders yourselves.
The only thing pity is that politicians have lost their "voice." I don't know if it is a result of "language policing" by the media or the fear of losing votes by joining divisive discussions, but no voice communicated nor resonated from them. Politicians who seem "gentle and good people" are growing in number as a result. I find that unfortunate. Moreover, business leaders may also worry about the possibility of triggering boycotts of their companies' products or other backlashes by expressing their opinions, because visibility tends to make them targets in various ways.
When that is the case, grassroots citizens may be the only people who can voice their opinions in the true sense of the word. But I think they are not the only ones. I predict that politicians and business leaders with courage will begin stating their opinions in partnership with grassroots networks. New opinion leaders may emerge. It will be the people who keep stating their opinions with conviction that will win sympathy through the process of "information democratization." I believe such people will go on to shape public opinion and change our society.
Those of you reading this blog now may be Japan's opinion leaders tomorrow. I believe Japan will start changing when the awareness that "I may be the one" arises in the minds of each and every one of us.
March 11, 2010