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Should rumor spreading be a prosecutable offense?

53 Comments

Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, a number of publications have touched upon reports of wild rumors and fear mongering, circulated via the Internet, social networks and in some foreign media.

The Sankei Shimbun (March 30) carried an article that attributed the run on supplies of bottled water to messages circulated via the Internet and Twitter.

According to the article, a 63-year-old housewife in Mie Prefecture, situated far from the contaminated area, was caught up in the hysteria and purchased 15 1-liter bottles of water and 20 bottles of tea. "I don't know what to believe, but I feel anxious, so I bought as much as I could take with me," she was quoted as saying.

Nikkan Gendai (March 30) reported that hotels and ryokan have been refusing accommodations to evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture out of fears over their "spreading radiation," and that transport firms are avoiding shipments of foodstuffs and fuel into the prefecture out of similar fears.

Such mistreatment of Fukushima residents, opines the tabloid, evokes memories of the ostracism suffered by Hiroshima bomb victims as depicted in Masuji Ibuse's 1966 novel "Black Rain."

So then -- what's to be done about these "dema hasshin" (messages spreading false rumors)?

Throw 'em in jail, urges Spa! (April 5).

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police may be inclined to agree. "By using notices and cyber control, we can track down those who spread wild stories," warns a source at the MPD's Hi-Tech Crime Prevention Center. "There's the possibility that malicious rumors can set off a frenzy, which can be treated as interference in the carrying out of police duties. Our guidelines are to deal with such offenders speedily and severely."

There have indeed been cases of spreaders of wild stories getting arrested, says IT journalist Toshiyuki Inoue, who cites arrests of offenders in South Korea on March 17 and in China March 21.

"Last February, three middle school students in Japan were arrested after they posted a threat on the web to commit indiscriminate murders in Shinjuku Station. In essence, the stuff being spread now is just as bad," asserts Inoue.

Some individuals are doing their part to nip rumors in the bud. One, a 30-year-old blogger named Chiki Ogiue, has set up a web site (d.hatena.ne.jp/seijotcp/) that attempts to shoot down crazy rumors.

Spa! runs numerous examples of the malicious material that's been popping up, and then debunks them one by one. Some examples include:

  • "On March 14, former Prime Yukio Hatoyama remarked while visiting Kyushu that he would 'never live within 200 kilometers of a nuclear power plant.'" (Hatoyama wasn't in Kyushu that day.)

  • The Sanjo middle school in Sendai was forced to halt operations as a disaster refuge due to looting by foreigners. (Denied by a teacher at the school.)

  • The government won't permit supply of emergency items to stranded communities using air drops. (Such drops are in fact being conducted.)

  • The University of Tokyo informed successful candidates for entry that their acceptance was canceled. (Publicly denied by the university.)

  • Financier Takafumi Horie has pocketed a portion of the charitable donations as "service fees." (Denied by Horie.)

  • The workers at the Fukushima reactor receive a daily wage of 120,000 yen (sourced from a now-defunct position available classified ad).

  • Electronics retailer Yamada Denki was selling a set of four size D dry cell batteries for 2,000 yen. (No evidence to support this.)

  • Korean entertainer BOA (Boa Kwon) tweeted, "I can laugh at the death and destruction from the Japan earthquake." (Denied by Boa. Appears to be a possibly maliciously altered mistranslation.)

One of the most common patterns found among these rumors is the ubiquitous source, "a friend of a friend," who always seems to pop up at the worst possible time.

"There have been reports of a thief and rapist operating in the Tokyo metropolitan area posing as a public building inspector," goes one, which is inevitably followed by "A friend of Ms (insert name here) was assaulted." The exact same message has been popping up again and again, with only the name changed to fit the sender's own situation.

Other nasty rumors have been circulated about activities in the water trade.

"The cabaret club hostesses who'd been working in Sendai have been flowing into Kabukicho in large numbers," goes one. "There's been a rush of club startups in Tokyo that exclusively feature girls from Tohoku," goes another.

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

53 Comments
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No way! The jails would be full of politicians.

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Reading this the core deceptions seem to be related to messages spread to falsely: 1 - Incite violence or hatred against a particular group of people (e.g. foreigners, Fukushima residents, Koreans, etc) 2 - Boost the sale of particular products (e.g. bottled water, tea, etc) 3 - Slander individuals or institutions

Type 2 rumours could be prosecuted as fraud if there was a financial motive, for example a bottled water company was found to be the original source. Type 3 rumours can be prosecuted under slander and defamation laws.

What I would welcome would be some sort of new legislation about type 1 rumours, because they seem to be incredibly common, from misleading news articles about crime rates by foreigners being higher than those by Japanese citizens, etc. However I doubt it would ever be successfully enacted since as noriyasan73 points out it would fill the prisons with politicians (not a bad thing in my opinion though!)

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mmm difficult ground maybe for some of the news outlets even..

but its right to talk of doing something about information spreading, especially when its no joke. ( not just in this instance)

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Yes, rumor spreading and general meanness should be prosecutable offenses.

"I bought as much as I could take with me"

It was evident that more than a few people did that in my local supermarket a couple of weeks ago.

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I don't think that it should be on a day to day level, because I think very few people would go about this with the INTENT to cause harm to others. Often Its just speculation combined with dumb people gone too far.

The press is a different matter. The national media should be held accountable for what they publish. Im still undecided about the internet.

But my God, if we were all punished for passing on rumours and gossip there would be no-one left. Its human nature to a certain extent. Its almost entirely the nature of Oba-chans across the land. We cant throw them all in jail.

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Several of my mail correspondents have remarked that Japanese have been much more subdued in the wake of this disaster than the one in 1923 -- when the government circulated rumors of arson by Koreans that led to lynchings of several thousand people. And the usually inflammatory Governor Ishihara has had the good sense to keep his mouth shut -- so far.

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And the usually inflammatory Governor Ishihara has had the good sense to keep his mouth shut -- so far.

????? Have you not been paying attention?

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The Sanjo middle school in Sendai was forced to halt operations as a disaster refuge due to looting by foreigners. (Denied by a teacher at the school.)

Absurd! As if there would be anything foreigners would want to loot.

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April 1 is the world's fool day of journalist. online readers may have a same sentiment when they read news.

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Last week or so I said a supermarket near me was selling 1-liter containers of milk for 348 yen, I imagine some people thought I was just spreading false rumors, but it was in fact the truth.

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"the water trade"

Being as how I'm not involved in this whatsoever, I had to look this up. The sex trade. From Japanese mizu-shobai.

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Mizu shobai can include bars, so it's not strictly the sex trade.

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Perhaps believing the false rumors should be a prosecutable offence?

Some people are just so naive. Some of the nonsense I've read over the past few weeks related to Fukushima and nuclear power have been laughable....but still some people believe it.

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Many people have success using a site like snopes.com to fact-check. Possibly the better alternative to trying to prosecute rumor-mongerers, benign as such a solution might seem, would be to promote and encourage use of sno

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well, if it was prosecutable , there wouldn't be anyone left to give us the "news" . they put out rumors on a daily basis. often under the guise of unnamed or anonymous sources.

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[oops - thumb-posted!!!]. Snopes or similar sites. There may be cultural subtleties that could be addressed to help this process.

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Well it totally depends on the rumor, doesn't it? If you can prove malicious or selfish intent, or information just made up out of the blue, fine.

But a lot of these rumors are a direct result of not being able to trust the government. And saying that the panic buying of bottled water was dumb is complete 20/20 hindsight. Had the nuclear crisis been worse, and it could have been, the press would tell us how savvy those people were.

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Might as well just outlaw stupidity.

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Here in the US we call that yellow journalism, or even drama queens. We learn to avoid them and go on to legitimate newspeople like this paper. If that yellow journalist had not existed, the people would have made up things in their own minds and been even a worse problem.

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I think it depends on who is spreading the rumours and whether they a substantiated claims. There are existent laws concerning libel or slander, as well as inciting riot, in which case it would be more a matter of applying the law equitably in the interest of justice for the greater societal good. But the issue seems to be whether or not people agree upon and accept those laws as the correct guidelines by which to behave within the society. Aye, indeed, there is the rub.

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In addition to this, the burden is upon those in official capacities to convey factual information in a timely manner so as to avoid misconceptions that might lead to occurrences of mass hysteria. (sorry, I hit the button too soon)

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The laws already in place, including laws against slander and libel, provide adequate restrictions on Japan's constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech.

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Perhaps withholding information on dangerous levels of contamination or on the seriousness of ongoing uncontrolled nuclear emergencies should be a prosecutable offense, especially if it can be shown to have lead to serious physical or enormous economic damage.

This should be reviewed after we decide whether managing of nuclear facilities in such a way as to lead to widespread contamination (or worse)should be a capital offense.

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Wouldn't this mean the entire staff of Spa should also be thrown in jail? Quite ironic. Their entire business model is spreading rumors.

Furthermore, the examples cited in the article are pretty silly to try to prosecute. You'd have to prosecute every person who hit 'like' on facebook to something that's a rumor even if it were 100% true. The author really hasn't put much thought into this.

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Last week or so I said a supermarket near me was selling 1-liter containers of milk for 348 yen, I imagine some people thought I was just spreading false rumors, but it was in fact the truth.

Doesn't seem unusual. There is cheap milk and there is pricey milk.

And . . . spreading rumors is only prosecutable if malicious intent can be proven in court.

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There is cheap milk and there is pricey milk.......................

assuming it's the " standard " whole milk, why the price difference ? Just plain curious , no hidden motive.

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"The Sanjo middle school in Sendai was forced to halt operations as a disaster refuge due to looting by foreigners. (Denied by a teacher at the school.)"

How ridiculous, what would they loot? Desks, chalk, (ahem) "history" textbooks. Who started that one, Ishihara?

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The government won’t permit supply of emergency items to stranded communities using air drops. (Such drops are in fact being conducted.)

This one was a misunderstanding from the term "air drop". Air drops in military terms, usually refers to the parachuting of cargo from a flying aircraft to the ground. This is in fact, not allowed in civilian areas in Japan as it is somewhat dangerous. However, they are taking supplies by helicopter and aircraft to areas but they have to land first and this is what they are calling "air drops".

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Conversely, will the Japanese government and TEPCO executives be subject to the law for withholding or inaccurately reporting news that has affected the health and welfare of the citizens that they are vested with protecting/their customers and neighbors?

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please do so, prosecute all gossip magazines then.

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The problem with rumors is that someone somewhere is dumb enough to believe whatever they read in print, see on TV, or read off the net'. I personally believe that many Japanese people are overly influenced by what they read or hear and take it to be "fact" because they say it on Fuji, TBS, NTV, or NHK. And like none of them ever stretched the truth.

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Yubaru - I wouldn't just limit that to 'Japanese people'. Look at the rest of the world too. Seems to me that many people of all nationalities believe what they read or see on TV.

Would be difficult to prosecute those responsible for rumors. That would entail tracing the original source of the rumor. It would also put the burden of proof on the prosecution. Somewhat difficult to do against media repeating stories they've heard.

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And the usually inflammatory Governor Ishihara has had the good sense to keep his mouth shut -- so far.

No such luck- early on in the piece he announced that the tsunami was a punishment from god on the Japanese people and then was asked to publicly apologise by the governor of Miyagi prefecture- Ishihara can never resist an opportunity to put his foot in it.

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This article is utter idiocy. First of all it is absurd to think that any policy will stop rumors in this kind of situation. It is equally idiotic to think that you can control panic by controlling only rumors.

There have been two key problems that caused much of the panic Tokyo has experienced. And there is only one entity to blame for that.

Clarity: The government failed to provide clear, understandable information that people could use to make proper judgements of the situation.

Trust: The government and Tepco combined failed to inspire trust and continue to do so today.

So we can lay all the blame for panic at the feet of the government who should be inspiring trust with candor, clarity and honesty.

Spa once again proves itself to be pointless rag of trash.

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Posting false threats on the web to commit indiscriminate murders and posting rumors out of fear during a big disaster are entirely two different things.

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In any case if Spa have their way, we will be arresting Edano, most of the Tepco guys and Kan for incorrect information too.

Again Spa is a pointless rag filled with pointless articles.

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tkoind2

Actually, I'd say Spa! is doing readers a service this time by pointing out which rumors and stories doing the rounds are false.

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But I heard from a friend of a friend of a friend that most people who post on Japan Today are in fact rumor-mongers themselves.

Well, at least that's what my friend of a friend of a friend told me... :-)

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Throw ‘em in jail, urges Spa!

It's hard to believe that the "journalists" at SPA so stupid as to demand prosecution for their own daily work...

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When the government is dishonest with the dissemination of information in the first place I don't see how it could

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Should "rumor" spreading be a prosecutable offense?

No.

We don't need any more laws. What we need is the laws in effect to be enforced.

The info released by governments is always propaganda crafted to keep the people in the dark about whatever topic is being explored.

Info spread by individuals is always an attempt to ferret out the truth. That is why they want to staunch the flow of info between citizens.

Saying a rumor isn't true simply because someone denied it, is laughable.

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what windandsea said-

Conversely, will the Japanese government and TEPCO executives be subject to the law for withholding or inaccurately reporting news that has affected the health and welfare of the citizens that they are vested with protecting/their customers and neighbors?

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It's not always easy where to draw the line between rumour and simple exaggeration. For example, there is a foreign banker in Tokyo who writes a blog (which was then published in a national newspaper). At one stage he says that his view out of his 25th floor office window changed from Tokyo Tower (to his north) to Ginza (to his north-east). If it's true that a modern office building rotated through 45 degrees and back, I wouldn't like to be anywhere near it. He then said that he escaped the building but was knocked off his feet by an after-shock and was seriously concerned that 4-storey buildings would fall down on him. It's just totally ridiculous (unless he was balancing on one leg with his eyes shut at the time). I was outside during the main quake and didn't see a single person knocked off his or her feet, and the after-shocks were much less powerful. He also says that the Fukushima plant was 130 miles from Tokyo (also untrue - the correct figure is about 150/160 miles, depending on which part of Tokyo you're talking about). Why the need for embellishment of a great story? People will start believing this stuff, a lot of which simply isn't true.

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During the Kanto Earthquake of 1923, rumours that Koreans were "poisoning the wells" led to the brutal massacre of thousands of Koreans, Chinese, and Okinawans. Even the police helped. There are pictures of dead bodies being poked at from this time. Simply disgusting.

Anyhow, spreading unfound rumours should be punishable as a crime. It should be more serious of a crime than slander or defamation.

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I think that people that write stupid things in Newspapers and Internet and become racist in real life because they are too stupid to understand that there isnot any danger outside the plant

Have to be fined and arrested

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We're making fun of this, but it is documented history that rumors spread after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 caused a dizzy, panicky Japanese public to attack foreigners, many of them Koreans brought here by colonialist Japan, with large numbers actually killed by mobs.

The net will need to establish ways to identify people who post dangerous rumors or outrght lies without infringing on the tenets of freedom of speech.

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In Italy: Tv RAI wanted that viewer belive that Japan was destroid by Fukushima plante explosion, tsunami is not the fault. Newspaper Il fatto quotidiano say that all people working in plants will die in a week Repubblica say that all food is contaminated also the sushi made in Italy because is a japanese recepe: Repubblica hate Japanese because use nuclear and hope in the death of all japanese, so no one will use nuclear (but in 50 years only 60 people died in chernobil but for eplosion, and some people with cancer with radiation 1000 times more than fukushima)

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What was the rumor regarding water? The government announced that Tokyo's tap water (and that of some surrounding municipalities) contained radioactive iodine in excess of safety standards for infants. That was no rumor. The fact that people in unaffected areas chose to interpret that as a threat is unfortunate, but it was a response to a fact that the water in some areas was contaminated with radioactive substances. In fact, the water still is contaminated in some areas but at levels that the government claims are safe.

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There were NO rumours about that.

What happened at some water-treatment plants they found levels that MIGHT harm infants(those same levels overseas wouldn't have raised an eye-brow or concern, japanese safety level are more strict than overseas ones).

The Treatment plants added additives and the levels afterwards dropped very quickly(like within a day).

That's about it.

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Zenny11,

"What happened at some water-treatment plants they found levels that MIGHT harm infants(those same levels overseas wouldn't have raised an eye-brow or concern, japanese safety level are more strict than overseas ones)." Yep right,

From the WHO website.

WHO guidelines for drinking water = Max 10Bq/l Japanese provisional guideline for adults = Max 300 Bq/l Japanese provisional guideline for children = Max 100 Bq/l

So as for rumour spreading who is again spreading incorrect information?

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AdamB.

Right, why don't you give the levels that others have cited and that are country specific. We all know how you feel about japan as you show it often enough in your posts.

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NO! Isn't freedom of speech already compromised enough as it is?

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“By using notices and cyber control, we can track down those who spread wild stories,” warns a source at the MPD’s Hi-Tech Crime Prevention Center. “There’s the possibility that malicious rumors can set off a frenzy, which can be treated as interference in the carrying out of police duties. Our guidelines are to deal with such offenders speedily and severely.”

Then they need to go after a bunch of British, German and American "news" sources as well....

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