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Editorial: Discussion on cyberbullying in Japan must go deeper

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry's panel of experts has compiled a draft interim report on measures to tackle anonymous cyberbullying in Japan. The objective is to make it easier to identify those behind harmful posts.

Online bullying is a serious problem. At least 5,000 consultation cases had been filed with the communications ministry annually for five consecutive years up to 2019. In May this year, professional wrestler Hana Kimura died after becoming a target of online abuse.

When a cyberbullying victim wants to identify the people behind hurtful posts to demand an apology or claim damages, they generally have to go through two sets of court trials. Many of those cases take at least a year to settle, and expenses are not cheap.

The expert panel suggested that authorities consider procedures in which only one trial is required to get results by introducing a simpler legal system than conventional lawsuits.

Establishing a framework to prevent malicious online posts and provide relief to the victims is an urgent task. The system to disclose information about posters has not been revised for nearly 20 years since it was introduced, and has become unable to respond to the changes in the internet environment.

At the same time, if such legal procedures become simpler, there might be cases where companies abuse the system to identify whistleblowers or those who post negative comments that work to their disadvantage. A system that would intimidate people and stop them voicing valid criticism must be avoided. A half of the expert panel members requested for careful examination, arguing that discussions over the matter have not been sufficient.

Meanwhile, the ruling coalition has separately suggested broader regulations, including making requests to delete hurtful posts filed by the Justice Ministry or local government bodies workable, and introducing tougher punishments against those who post them. The Justice Ministry is also considering revising criminal penalties for such cases.

Online posts that hurt people must not be tolerated. At the same time, consideration must be paid to freedom of expression and secrecy of communication guaranteed under the Japanese Constitution. A full-on debate is required to introduce the regulations.

The establishment of a third-party organization should be considered so that it can be judged whether an online post violates human rights.

Businesses running social media platforms have been introducing rules banning posts that constitute defamation or harassment. They will need guidelines to operate the rules fairly.

While people can take to the internet to comment on matters freely, posts can be spread easily, and it is difficult to completely erase them from cyberspace. To establish a system where no person faces cyberbullying, the issue needs to be addressed by society as a whole.

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