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Japan's schools, education boards fight online attacks on students with coronavirus

A screenshot of a YouTube video created by the municipal education board in the southwestern Japan city of Kitakyushu is shown. Middle school students in the video state that they do not tolerate prejudice or discrimination against people infected with the coronavirus.

TOKYO -- Schools and education boards across Japan are stepping up efforts to tackle online posts that try to identify and attack students infected with the coronavirus.

    Rissho Shonan High School in the western Japan city of Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, where an infection cluster hit soccer club members living in the school dormitory, posted a statement on its website on Aug. 12 that read, "Photos of unrelated students at our school are being posted without permission on social media and the internet. We ask that these pictures be deleted immediately to prevent students from being the target of slander."

    According to the high school, after infections had been confirmed it removed pictures showing club members' faces from the school website to prevent individual students from being identified. However, the photos had already been spread online along with comments including, "Crowded gatherings with no masks, dispersing droplets by speaking in loud voices."

    Vice principal Shinji Kamikawa commented, "The students are not at fault. We will have no choice but to ask a lawyer to take legal action if this situation gets out of control."

    Schools and education boards have been taking measures to counter online abuse since before the pandemic, one of which is monitoring the internet. The Mie Prefectural Board of Education implemented a monitoring system in academic 2009, and added coronavirus-related posts to its list of topics to watch this past May after an increase in online abuse against infected people. The education board entrusts the monitoring to a contractor which notifies the school concerned through the board when it finds discriminatory posts. The education board said that it also issues warnings to children and parents, while also making post removal requests when deemed necessary.

    There have also been moves to spread awareness. Metropolitan Tokyo's education board released a manga titled "As if I were a virus..." on its website at the beginning of July. It tells the story of a schoolboy who is being avoided by his classmates because his mother works at a hospital that accepted coronavirus patients. A board official said, "We would like for people to think about this issue as if it were their own by using this reader-friendly tool."

    Meanwhile, the student council at Takaoka Junior High School and the Takaoka district's PTA in the city of Miyazaki, southwest Japan, drew up a declaration stating, "We will absolutely not partake in, allow, or tolerate abuse and defamation by identifying infected individuals," and posted it in some 50 locations, including supermarkets and hospitals. Principal Kazuhiro Watanabe, 60, commented, "This declaration can put the brakes on defamation if it can serve as a warning to someone about to discriminate against or attack infected people."

    The Japanese Red Cross Society (JRC) has also posted educational material for children on its website at the end of March showing how infections can lead to discrimination. The material titled, "Three faces of COVID-19 we must be alert to -- A guide to breaking the negative spiral," was created with the help of clinical psychologists and other experts.

    Yukiko Miyazaki, a section head of the JRC's Red Cross Youth and Volunteers Division, said, "The key to breaking the spiral is whether you can imagine that there's a possibility that you'll also be infected, and whether you can act while putting yourself in the other person's shoes. The first step is to acquire accurate knowledge on the coronavirus."

    (Japanese original by Richi Tanaka, City News Department)

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