Build Framework to Encourage Efforts by Social Media Operators

The internet is rife with defamatory information. This situation cannot go unaddressed.

The government must establish an appropriate framework so that companies operating social media platforms will voluntarily strengthen their responses.

With overseas tech giants in mind, an expert panel of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has begun studying measures to clarify the responsibility of social media operators vis-a-vis slander and defamation on the internet. The panel is expected to compile a report this summer.

Slander and defamation on social media came to light as a societal problem after Hana Kimura, a female professional wrestler, committed suicide in 2020 after being targeted by heartless opinions over her words and actions on a TV program.

The impact of slander is serious, and many victims are reportedly young. Effective measures must be taken to ensure deterrence.

The government has already taken action in the wake of the Kimura case.

In order for victims to seek compensation or an apology, it is necessary to identify the person who posted the information. Since 2020, the government has revised legislation concerning internet service providers to allow the disclosure of telephone numbers of people who post slanderous and defamatory comments.

Court procedures, which previously required a few steps before a slanderous poster could be identified, can now be carried out with a single step, in principle. The penalties for insults under the Penal Code have also been strengthened.

It is unclear whether these measures will be effective. In fiscal 2021, the ministry’s hotline on illegal and harmful information received 6,300 consultations, an increase of nearly 1,000 cases from the previous year. Further measures are urgently needed.

The expert panel, which began discussing the issue last December, is considering new regulations for social media operators.

The panel is considering a plan to establish a system requiring each operator to periodically disclose whether they have a system in place to monitor the content of postings and whether they delete inappropriate instances.

Yahoo Japan Corp. already regularly discloses the number of postings it has deleted, but many foreign social media platforms, such as Facebook, which is operated by Meta, and Twitter do not disclose details of how they operate in Japan or the number of postings they have deleted in this country.

Responses to users who lodge complaints are also said to be inadequate.

Social media has become an indispensable part of people’s daily lives. Social media platform operators have a heavy social responsibility. It is vital to increase transparency through information disclosure.

At the same time, it is also important to prevent abuse of the system to suppress legitimate critical opinion. Excessive regulation may hinder “freedom of expression.” It is essential to design a system that balances freedom of expression with damage prevention.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 7, 2023)