Hana Kimura death spurs new law to regulate cyberbullying in Japan

Kimura, 22, had suffered a barrage of hateful comments after her appearance on the popular show, raising questions not only about cyberbullying but also about subjecting young people to the harsh glare of reality television. The fact that she was female and half-Indonesian only appeared to make her more of a target.

Professional wrestlers around the world, as well as Japanese celebrities, sports stars and lawyers, expressed their sadness at Kimura’s death, and their anger at the bullies who had rounded on a shy, charming and vulnerable young woman.

Japanese Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi said procedures are needed “to disclose information on senders in order to curb online abuse and rescue victims,” the Kyodo News agency reported on Tuesday.

Takaichi said the government intends to revise an existing law “with a sense of speed,” to simplify procedures to identify individuals who make defamatory posts online, aiming for draft legislation by the end of the year, Kyodo reported.

Japan’s Provider Limitation Liability Act of 2002 allows victims of abusive posts to ask Internet service providers to disclose information on senders and permits damages to be levied. But experts say the law is weak, outdated and offers little practical protection.

Lawyer Takahiro Karasawa said victims have to go through the courts to identify abusers, which can take six months to a year and is costly in terms of legal fees. Service providers are not required to keep communications logs and often claim not to have records.

Even if senders are identified, police are reluctant to investigate cases, and damages, if awarded, are usually low and may not even cover legal costs, he said.

It is even more difficult for police to investigate cases involving overseas platforms such as Twitter, said Yohei Shimizu of law firm Alcien.

Similar efforts began in South Korea last year after two young K-pop singers, Goo Hara and Sulli, committed suicide in short succession.

With rare candor in the regimented world of K-pop, Sulli had spoken publicly about her mental health issues and her struggles with malicious online rumors and comments.

She served as co-host of a TV show entitled “The Night of Hate Comments,” during which she would read out mean social media comments about herself and try to brush them off with laughter.

A week after her death in October, South Korean lawmaker Park Dae-chul called the incident “murder by fingers” on a keyboard.

“As in Sulli’s case, people are exposed to attacks, and they can no longer be left out in the cold,” another lawmaker, Park Sun-sook, told parliament.

She led a dozen other legislators in proposing an amendment to address cyberbullying. The proposal is still pending in parliament, but the debate has already encouraged major South Korean online platforms to limit reader comments on celebrity news.

Experts say legislation alone will not solve the problem, however, and could infringe on freedom of expression.

“Although online hate speech has become a problem, a question mark hangs over how to regulate that. At what point do those regulations turn into censorship?” said Rhee June-woong, a professor of media and communication at Seoul National University.

“Hate speech toward female celebrities comes from the misogynistic culture in wider society,” he added. “Unless this core problem is addressed, the online hate that led to Sulli’s death will persist in various corners of social media and the Internet.”

Kimura’s death also raised questions about the format of “Terrace House: Tokyo,” where six young people live together in a house and their every conversation and romantic entanglement is scrutinized and judged by a studio panel, putting them under an intense spotlight.

Filming of “Terrace House: Tokyo” was suspended in April due to the coronavirus pandemic. Two new episodes were due to have been released this week and next, but now will not be aired, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

“We are at a loss for words upon learning of the loss of Hana Kimura and extend our condolence to her family,” co-producers Fuji Television Network said in a statement.

Netflix did not respond to a request for comment.

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