Crackdown on Malicious Posts Puts Online Harassers on Notice

This may be a sign of the police’s strong determination to firmly crack down on malicious posts on the internet. It is hoped that it will help deter increasingly serious cases of defamation.

The Metropolitan Police Department has sent papers to prosecutors on a man in his 20s living in Osaka Prefecture on charges of criminal insult against female professional wrestler Hana Kimura, who committed suicide in May this year after receiving abusive messages online.

After watching a Fuji TV program in which Kimura appeared, the man anonymously posted messages on her Twitter account, including comments such as “Is your life worth living?” and “When will you die?”

It is not hard to imagine how Kimura was mentally driven into a corner after seeing the posts. It is reported that the man admitted to the charges and told police, “After watching the TV program, I came to hate her and wanted to hurt her feelings.”

About 300 abusive comments were posted on her Twitter account. After her death, many of them were deleted by the posters, but the MPD retrieved the data and narrowed down the suspects to this one man who repeatedly posted malicious messages.

Some people believe that posting anonymously will prevent their identity from being revealed. The investigative authorities’ legal action against this man is significant in that it makes it obvious this is not true.

The fact that Kimura had herself saved images of malicious posts also reportedly helped identify the suspect. It is important to preserve evidence of damage.

There have been a series of suicides due to defamation in Japan and abroad. Social media users should realize that thoughtless posts can sometimes claim the lives of others and they themselves can even be accused of crimes.

In response to Kimura’s death, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has added the phone numbers of people who post messages to the list of information that victims can request from social media operators and others. The move is aimed at making it easier to identify anonymous posters and demand compensation or an apology.

Until now, multiple court proceedings have been necessary to identify those who make such posts. But the ministry intends to introduce a system in which only one court proceeding, in principle, is required. It is important that such efforts lead to early relief for victims while maintaining a balance with freedom of expression.

Social media operators should strengthen their voluntary efforts, such as deleting malicious posts. There is a mechanism to block malicious posts and a function to prevent the content of posts being displayed without the sender of the posts being notified. Efforts should be made to spread the word about these features.

Kimura’s family has filed a complaint with the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization (BPO), claiming a human rights violation. It has been pointed out that the TV program in which Kimura appeared was characterized by realistic portrayals of love stories between men and women and viewers were easily able to empathize with the cast members.

It is necessary to clarify through an impartial trial whether there was exaggerated staging that could have invited defamatory posts.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 18, 2020.