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Opinion: Uncovering the mask of cyberstalking

There have been cases online in which people use information posted by others on social networking sites to track down their physical address and haunt them. Damage from cyberstalking has grown serious over the past 10 years or so, and recently Japan has seen the appearance of so-called "tokuteiya" (identifiers) who track down people's addresses, thereby indirectly supporting stalking activities.

    Using photos is one way such people track down information on others. If a photo of a student is posted on a social networking site, someone might be able to identify where they are from their uniform or the sign of a bakery in the photo, for example, and then find them by waiting outside the nearest train station.

    Such activities begin in the virtual world of the internet, and lead to a chain of excessive, obsessive behavior extending into the real world. In Japan, the term "stalking" is often associated with romantic feelings, but in the English-speaking world it quite often includes persistent online assaults or even mob-like attacks stemming from frustration, hate, antipathy and other such feelings.

    U.S. security giant Symantec, now known as NortonLifeLock Inc., has defined cyberstalking as using email, social networking services, blogs and other forms of technology to persistently harass a specific person. The Australian government's definition of cyberstalking, meanwhile, includes "making unwanted contact by calling, emailing, texting, messaging, or sending offensive material."

    In 2007, a U.S. game developer and blogger was attacked online by a group of anonymous individuals. Her home and family information were exposed online, and she also received death threats. This is cited as a typical example of cyberstalking.

    In Japan in May this year, Hana Kimura, a female professional wrestler who had appeared in a popular television program, suffered vicious attacks on social media and later apparently took her own life. Meanwhile Shiori Ito, a journalist who filed a lawsuit alleging rape without concealing her name, was exposed to a barrage of slanderous posts on social media numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

    Such cases are reported in Japan as bullying or slander, but I think the term cyberstalking probably more accurately describes the situation.

    When online attacks by anonymous groups escalate and information on the home and family of the "target" is exposed online, it can lead to acts of violence in real life. People need to be aware, then, that participating in such behavior is just like taking part in group stalking. When we become anonymous, we tend to forget the responsibility that accompanies our behavior.

    (Japanese original by Tomoko Ohji, Expert Writer)

    Tomoko Ohji was formerly the Mainichi Shimbun's correspondent in Washington and then Jerusalem.

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