TOKYO -- Evidence is emerging that shows some people are seeking professional help and advice over their regret or fear from participating in the online abuse that led to the suspected suicide of 22-year-old professional wrestler Hana Kimura in May, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned through interviews with various organizations.
"I may have taken Hana's life," "I pushed her to her death," as well as simply, "This is hard for me," are just a few of the messages that have been received by the organizations. Kimura was the target of a stream of savage commentary by hordes of online trolls over her appearance on the popular Fuji Television Network reality show "Terrace House." But now, when faced with the heavy consequences of a person's life being lost, what do those people think?
By the start of July, the nonprofit organization "Anata no ibasho" (roughly translatable as "Your place of safety") had received 10 anonymous consultations from people troubled by their online attacks on Kimura. The individuals were men and women aged between 10 and 39. Eight of them were girls between 10 and 19 years old.
Among the messages received were, "I wrote on social media with a feeling that she could be doing things better," and, "Maybe I slandered her." Others dwelt on their feelings, saying, "I couldn't tell anyone (what I'd done)," and, "I'm not sure if I should keep on living."
Ibasho head Koki Ozora, 21, said, "I think these people who've come to us for consultations are really in pain." Regarding how the group handles the messages, he said that it doesn't affirm that people have done what they claim. Instead, it listens closely to what they have to say, and lets them get their feelings out.
Although some of the people who came for consultations were racked with guilt, there were also some who said things like, "I pushed her to her death. If that information was made public, I think my life would be over." Another wrote, "I thought there was no way it could happen, and I said abusive things. There were lots of other people doing it, so I posted on social media, too. Will I be arrested?" Similarly, one person said, "I'm afraid I'll be arrested."
In some of these cases, the individuals coming forward are fully cognizant that they hurt Hana Kimura, and fear their responsibility for it being pursued. In response to these kinds of statements from people seeking consultation, the service responds with statements like, "If you have feelings of regret, then hold on to them." Even so, they continue to receive messages from people afraid they'll be arrested.
Ozora said, "In all these cases, the thing that I think is lacking is imagination. People are writing these comments with a strange sense of justice, and they can't imagine how much it will hurt the person they're aiming them at." He added that there also considerations to be made for those people who've come forward to express their fears they will be confronted with their responsibility.
"In the background of all this are people who also have serious problems in their personal relationships and in their home life. What I want is not for people to chase down the individuals who have engaged in this slander, but instead to try to imagine what kind of issues those men and women have," he said.
Legal offices have also received some queries. Lawyer Akihiro Komoto, an expert in internet slander issues and a member of the Dai-Ichi Tokyo Bar Association, spoke to the Mainichi Shimbun about one such case after receiving permission to do so from the individual concerned.
Komoto said that one of the people who approached him described having "tweeted things like, 'You're pathetic.'" The individual in question had watched the show as it was aired and commented on it in real time on social media with other users.
The individual reportedly also told Komoto, "I just wrote what I thought about what I saw; I didn't think I was doing something bad. I thought she (Hana Kimura) was a really strong person, so if I just wrote what I did it'd be fine." They were also quoted as saying, "The result was way too heavy, and it made me think that if I had been complicit in that then I am truly sorry for what happened."
Regarding the individual, Komoto said, "I think they came for the consultation because they felt guilty, and wanted to find ways inside themselves to resolve that." He said the person had looked tired, but their way of dressing and speaking was not irregular or coarse. "They were a totally ordinary person," Komoto said.
According to Komoto, there have been other cases of people coming forward to talk about having retweeted slanderous messages.
Hana Kimura's mother Kyoko has also received emails from people apologizing for abusing her daughter. When Kyoko asked why these people had done it, they responded with messages including: "Whatever I say, I'm not going to be forgiven, but I have a disability which means I can't do the things I like, and I wrote the messages to relieve stress." They also wrote, "There's no value in me living, so I'll die."
When Kyoko read these messages, she said, "People who insult others are also looking for help. I thought, the kind of person telling others to 'die' also carries that feeling toward themself too, so they let their negative feelings out on others." Some senders told her they would "quit social media," but Kyoko doesn't think that quitting social media is a way to improve things.
Instead, she said, "If you feel responsibility, then live, carry that burden with you your whole life; if you can overcome those harsh thoughts, learn about how to properly use social media, and become happy with life."
Now, Kyoko is reportedly looking into establishing a nonprofit organization in Hana's name that would work to end slander online -- an initiative fueled by the wish to bring about "social media filled with love."
(Japanese original by Haruka Utagawa and Hiromi Makino, Integrated Digital News Center)