In July 2007, a third-year senior high school boy in Kobe killed himself. He flung himself off the roof of the school building. Notes found in his pockets told a good part of the story: “I can’t pay.” “My grades are falling. All I can do is die.”
The boy was alone in his suffering but not in his plight – 18,048 children are known to have committed suicide between 1972 and 2013, according to a government report released this past summer.
Online bullying is often called “invisible” bullying, notes Shukan Josei (Dec 8). Few adults visit the sites where kids are pilloried, insulted and/or threatened until they simply can’t take it any more. The Kobe boy’s trouble began on a seemingly innocent footsal blog started by one of his classmates. Somebody wrote on it, “That kid (naming him) is a liar.” “Liars get fined,” added someone else. “Pay 10,000 yen!”
From there, it snowballed. Email came pouring in: “We’re gonna lynch you!”
Can anything good come of this? Some people read of the case and decided enough was enough. They formed an enterprise called Adish. It’s basically a citizen Net patrol. Working on a contract basis with individual schools, it tailors its services to each school’s needs. To sum it up in a phrase, Adish staffers are, and call themselves, “school guardians.” They monitor sites that tend to slip beneath the adult supervisory radar.
They claim to know what to look for, and that’s not always obvious. What at first blush looks like bullying might be benign, and conversely, what seems benign might contain sinister undertones. “Die!” for example, is a common expression among kids. Sometimes it’s in fun. Sometimes it’s not. The trick, Shukan Josei hears from Adish monitor Yukiko Sasaki, is to make the right distinction. It takes experience and judgment.
Adish was slow getting off the ground. Schools are notoriously leery of engaging private organizations. Especially one like this. It amounts to a cry for help. Word gets out and you get labeled as a problem school. Better sweep the problem under the rug. But the problem grows, and the rug can only be stretched so far. In 2009, a Tokyo school contracted with Adish, and made the even bolder decision to make no secret of it. Other schools followed suit, swelling Adish’s client list, which now numbers 3,635 public school and 185 private ones. The conspicuous preponderance of public schools over private reflects greater “brand consciousness” among private schools. They are businesses, after all. Their image is their capital.
What do Adish monitors look for as they patrol the Internet in all its vastness? On the one hand, for stray offensive remarks, subtle or pointed, that set off alarm bells in an experienced observer; or for personal information, true or false, that is carelessly, thoughtlessly or maliciously exposed; or, on the other hand, for comments like “I want to die,” “I’ll jump off the roof at the school festival,” which reveal, or more often merely suggest, a soul in anguish, a “potential suicide.” First the monitors find, then they assess, and finally, when they consider it warranted, they report to the school. They have no direct contact with students, either victims or perpetrators.
Are there privacy issues here? Privacy on the Internet is a moot point in a medium whose very purpose is publicity. How much privacy we’re entitled to, and how much we want, are questions yet to be settled. In any case, Shukan Josei says, school contracting with Adish inform their students of the fact – partly to allay any impression there might be of spying, partly in the hope letting potential offenders know there are limits to what is acceptable.
How effective is Adish? On average it issues six warnings a month to each client school. “We won’t get Internet bullying down to zero,” says company official Shinya Suzuki, “but we do seem to be having a deterrent effect.”© Japan Today