Resolutely defend Olympic athletes from attacks by social media trolls

We have seen case after case of Tokyo Olympic athletes suffering defamatory attacks on social media. It is important to respond resolutely to such malicious posts, including through legal action.

While social media sites, such as Twitter and Instagram, play a role in connecting athletes and their fans, these services can also enable defamation as posters are able to write messages anonymously.

At the current Olympics, there has been a flood of comments on medal winners Daiki Hashimoto of men’s artistic gymnastics and Kanoa Igarashi of men’s surfing, such as, “How much did you pay to buy the referees?” and “You don’t deserve this medal.”

Artistic gymnast Mai Murakami was in tears as she spoke about being the target of such attacks. She said, “Even though I try not to look [at such messages], I inevitably see them.”

Foreign athletes, including a South Korean female archer who won three gold medals at this Olympics, have also been the targets of defamation.

Unfounded defamatory attacks psychologically drive athletes into a corner and have a negative impact on their performance in competitions. Everyone should be aware that insulting athletes using abusive language demonstrates nothing but the small-mindedness of the posters themselves and degrades their own character.

Before the Olympics, Rikako Ikee, who had been unofficially nominated for Japan’s national swimming team, received messages telling her to withdraw from the Games.

Experts say that defamatory attacks have increased as people had more time to use social media because they spent more time at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, and as public opinion has been divided as to whether to hold the Olympics. But no matter the reason, unfairly hurting athletes must never be allowed.

Many posters delete their messages to avoid responsibility. In response, the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) has made it clear that it is monitoring and recording vitriolic posts. The JOC said that it will consider reporting malicious cases to investigative authorities.

Table tennis player Jun Mizutani said that he would take appropriate action after saving images of postings. Such measures are also important.

In the case of a female professional wrestler who committed suicide last year after being defamed on social media, the Metropolitan Police Department recovered the deleted posts and cracked down on the men who wrote them. Police should thoroughly investigate malicious postings.

Social media service providers, on their part, need to strengthen their measures, such as deleting problematic posts.

It is difficult for an athlete alone to deal with these problems. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), the JOC and other sports organizations must expedite their efforts to create a system to protect athletes.

The IOC has set up a telephone consultation service for athletes. It is hoped that the international sporting organization will focus on providing emotional support for athletes who have been hurt.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 6, 2021.