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Japan netizens, celebrities, experts blast online slander after wrestler Hana Kimura's death

Professional wrestler Hana Kimura is seen in this screenshot from the official website of the reality show "Terrace House."

TOKYO -- A 22-year-old female professional wrestler who appeared in Japan's popular reality show series "Terrace House" died on May 23, leaving behind online posts that said "goodbye" and told how she had been troubled by slanderous remarks immediately before her death.

Although the cause of Hana Kimura's death remains undisclosed, there has been discussion on Twitter about individuals receiving intensive attacks from anonymous posts, and public figures have also spoken up about the issue.

The reality show focuses on how six men and women, including those selected from the public, live together. According to New Japan Pro-Wrestling Co. and other sources, Kimura, whose mother was also a wrestler, made her debut as a professional wrestler in 2016 and had appeared on the show since 2019.

Terrace House seasons are released first on Netflix, and broadcast terrestrially by Fuji Television Network Inc. In an episode streamed in late March, one of the cast members who lived together with Kimura accidentally washed her wrestling singlet, and she became unable to wear the suit. It showed Kimura strongly condemning the member.

In response to Kimura's reaction, people took to the internet to post severe criticism such as, "I feel sick. She really needs to go away as soon as possible," and, "Get lost, now."

Before dawn on May 23, Kimura tweeted, "I get nearly 100 blunt remarks every day. I can't deny feeling hurt. 'Go die, you're disgusting, go away' -- I've have been always thinking about that myself the most. Thanks for giving birth to me, mom."

Later that day, Kimura's talent agency announced her death. Many people then started posting on Twitter about mental abuse on social media.

"Ill will coming from unknown anonymous individuals is of course scary," "What do you think about a human life? Tweets aren't any different from spoken words," and "Even if it's done online, it's the same as pointing a knife at the person," are some of the tweets people posted with the hashtag "hibo chusho" meaning name-calling and abuse in Japanese. Posts with the hashtag exceeded over 1.3 million in number by the evening of May 24, and was the most trending topic in Japan.

Many public figures including celebrities have also made online posts, projecting their own experiences onto Kimura's case.

Singer and model Kyary Pamyu Pamyu tweeted, "It's difficult, even if people tell you to ignore abusive comments. Please do not forget that celebrities are also human beings." Model Nicole Fujita posted, "Receiving death threats from unknown people ... I've been told many times that you need to be prepared for those kinds of things when becoming a celebrity. It's scary that people think that way."

Comedian Smiley Kikuchi, who was defamed due to a false claim about being involved in a murder case, said, "Just thinking how much she had been troubled and agonized before her death, I feel so sad and crushed." He also posted, "When you are troubled, please do not endure it by yourself. Tell us how stressed you are."

Entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa wrote, "Excessive defamation should be severely punished." He added, "Victims need not to ignore the abuse, but to file a complaint. The actions of the victims will serve as an overall deterrent."

Former professional wrestler Chigusa Nagayo posted on Twitter, "Social media mustn't be a tool to kill someone with words," and mourned, "She was an athlete, a professional wrestler with a future. She just played the villain. In reality, she was a polite and kind junior professional wrestler."

Yamato Sato, a lawyer making efforts to protect the rights of celebrities, says victims of abusive comments by masses of people on social media and other platforms can demand consolation money. However, Sato says though the process is complicated, and hiring a lawyer and other necessities cost money, the court does not support a victim's claim easily. "If the victim is a celebrity, it can affect their image as a public figure. In the end, there aren't any systems to protect people's names and mental health, and that's a big problem."

Chiki Ogiue, commentator and a representative director of the nonprofit organization "Stop Ijime! Navi," says though he does not know the background of Kimura's death, "many people are relating to the issue of slander."

Although there are movements online to track down the people who bashed Kimura, Ogiue says "trivializing it to moral issues of perpetrators is not going to solve the problem." He added, "Discussion on the responsibility of digital platformers that allow inappropriate posts; simplifying the process of information disclosure to identify people who posted abusive comments; and the structure of the media that forces individuals to take risks that come with streaming and broadcasting programs, among other issues, are necessary for improvement."

There is a message of condolence on the reality show's website, along with an announcement that streaming and episode broadcasts have been suspended until the beginning of June.

(Japanese original by Makiko Osako, Integrated Digital News Center)

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