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Editorial: Kimura’s death underscores need for system to ID online abusers

  • May 27, 2020
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 12:58 p.m.
  • English Press

Hana Kimura, 22, a cast member of the popular TV reality show “Terrace House” produced and aired by Fuji Television Network Inc., died on May 23.


Before her sudden death, Kimura was slandered repeatedly on social media for her remarks and conduct in the show, which featured three women and three men sharing a house in Tokyo.

A suicide note of sorts was reportedly discovered at her home.


As the show was streamed worldwide through Netflix, Kimura’s death has shocked overseas audiences as well.


Fuji Television needs to carefully examine if the show was being produced and edited appropriately, and whether sufficient mental-health care was being made available to young cast members whose privacies were being exposed to the public.


Also important is for the entire society to think seriously about the very contemporary problem of how best to curb ad hominem attacks online that are becoming more malicious, so that the dignity of individuals being targeted will be duly protected.


With more people using social media, the number of victims of online defamation has grown. More than 5,000 complaints have been filed, quadrupling over roughly a decade.


And about 2,000 cases per year are determined by the Justice Ministry’s human rights bureau to constitute violations of human rights.


Social media operators claim they voluntarily delete posts that are judged to be unacceptable and deny access to offenders.


However, their criteria for such decisions are unclear, and the deletions are not made fast enough, as pointed out by many users.


One solution that should be considered is to simplify the process by which victims can track down and identify abusive posters to facilitate their own recovery from damage.


Currently, many webmasters and internet providers refuse to disclose the identity of posters even when their posts obviously violate human rights.


As a result, victims must first go to court and win their case before they can identify their tormentors, and then sue them for damages. All steps are tremendously onerous and time-consuming.


Action needs to be taken now to establish procedures to encourage greater voluntary disclosure of information by webmasters and internet providers, as well as to study and introduce some system that will facilitate and expedite lawsuits against overseas providers.


This need is recognized by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which actually started discussing the matter last month with a panel of experts. We hope the panel will come up with workable proposals that will help solve the problems without sacrificing the freedom with which citizens can voice their opinions online.


There are often cases where it is not easy to determine whether a post is defamatory or is just a legitimate opinion.


But the issue can become clearer to assess and resolve if complaints can be lodged on the internet by people who are not in a position to do so easily under their real names.


Society’s collective wisdom continues to be tested on how to take advantage of the convenience offered by social media.


Perhaps a growing sense of unease and social restrictions form the backdrop of the present reality of the proliferation of extremely abusive language that can be likened to a double-edge sword.

To overcome this dilemma, we must remember to focus beyond cyberspace to the deep malaise that lurks in the real world.

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