Japan is throwing the book at online bullies

Japan is throwing the book at online bullies
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Cyberbullying, hate, trolling; whatever you want to call it, we can probably all agree it isn’t the best thing to have come from the internet. And in plenty of places, the emphasis has been to pressure social media companies to reign in these kinds of harmful speech on their platforms.

But platforms, arguably, haven’t been doing enough to regulate this negativity, so some governments are beginning to take it into their own hands. And the Japanese, a crew known for the stereotype of being polite and courteous, are leading the charge.

A recently revised law will allow Japanese authorities to slap people with a 300,000 yen (about US$2,200) penalty and up to a year in jail for public abuse on social media platforms. This is up from the previous penalty of 10,000 yen and 29 days in jail. The change comes after the suicide of a 22-year-old professional wrestler and reality TV star who was harassed online.

“It’s important to try to stamp out the kind of vicious insults that have sometimes even driven people to die,” said Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa to reporters on Tuesday. “The revision to the law doesn’t unjustly limit freedom of expression.”

Some, including Japan’s Federation of Bar Associations, opposed the shift, saying it constituted a crackdown on free expression. But Japan’s Justice Ministry said in a Q&A that the new penalties would not be enforced on speech against politicians and that it was keeping its definition of public abuse, “showing contempt for someone, without basis in fact, in a way that could come to the notice of unspecified or large numbers of people.”