No sooner was the knife out than the tweet storm began. “There’s a guy with a knife, the train stopped.” “I’m on a shinkansen – people getting stabbed – chaos.”
June 9, 9:50 p.m. The Nozomi No. 265, bound for Osaka, had just left Tokyo. What the passengers in car 12 were put through as the knife-wielder rampaged, killing one man and injuring two women, before police stormed the train during an emergency stop at Odawara Station and arrested the suspect, is hard to imagine, but easy to see. Just click onto social media. It’s all there.
Josei Seven (July 19-26) acknowledges the benefits of real-time coverage of incidents of public interest. But there’s a dark side as well, the magazine argues – which at times, it suggests, turns faintly ghoulish.
Imagine, it urges, the victim gasping out his or her precious life in a train, surrounded by hordes of smartphone-wielders snapping away, eagerly preparing to upload their captured images, thoughts of going viral dancing in their heads. “It defies common sense,” it says, which seems an understatement.
As with images, so with words. They fly thick and fast. A scene that actually did go viral was of a pregnant young woman screaming, “My baby!” The net bulletin boards lit up: “Is a baby’s life worth more than anyone else’s in a situation in which anyone can get killed?” demanded one.
“What’s she saying,” snapped another – “‘I’m pregnant, so save me first?’”
Others wondered at the men in the car who did not resist the attacker. One did – 38-year-old Kotaro Umeda of Hyogo Prefecture – and paid with his life, dying of stab wounds. But the others? “How many men would there have been in the car? Why didn’t they overpower him? They were many against one. Human trash.”
Josei Seven makes the obvious rejoinder: Courage comes easily enough to those in safety.
“A lot of incoherent, very strong criticism of victims that would never pass face to face litters the internet,” observes net journalist Junichiro Nakagawa. “In the world of the internet, people with the same biased opinions drift together and encourage each other: ‘That’s right, that’s true!’ And whoever it was that started the dialogue thinks, ‘See how many people agree with me! I must be right’ – which produces a real adrenalin rush and keeps the process going.”
The shinkansen attack occurred almost 10 years to the day after what became known as the Akihabara massacre of June 8, 2008, in which Tomohiro Kato drove a truck into a crowd at Akihabara and then went flailing about with a knife. The final toll was seven dead, 10 injured. Josei Seven recalls it as a first instance of what would soon become commonplace: the mass photography of mass chaos, or of anything, for that matter, out of the ordinary.
It drew much criticism, but back in those pre-smartphone days the mechanisms were comparatively primitive. It took hours to get images uploaded onto the internet. Now it takes seconds. Even the regular mass media, the magazine notes, depends on these instant uploads, sometimes paying for striking images and quotes – which of course is one stimulus the more, and no small one.
“It doesn’t seem to occur to them,” says Tsukuba University psychologist Takayuki Harada, “that these uploads may be hurting people. They’re too busy thinking, ‘This upload’ll get noticed, it’ll draw attention, people’ll go, ‘Wow!’ It’s very simplistic thinking.”© Japan Today