The internet is many things to many people – a toxic swamp for some.
“Where,” asks Weekly Playboy (June 22), “is the borderline” between abusive slander and fair comment? The question arises with redoubled poignancy in the wake of the apparent suicide last month of Terrace House cast member Hana Kimura. The answer is that there is no answer – no clear one, at least.
"Terrace House," broadcast by Fuji Television and distributed, with English subtitles, via the U.S. video streaming service Netflix, is a supposedly scriptless reality TV show featuring three women and three men sharing somewhat cramped living accommodations in Tokyo. The potential for strain is very great. It surfaced during an episode last March in which the 22-year-old Kimura, a professional wrestler off-camera, lost her temper at a fellow cast member who accidentally shrank her wrestling costume in the wash.
This was too much for some of the show’s fans, who spattered various social media with their outrage. “Die!” said some. “Disappear!” said others. “You’re the worst cast member ever!” And so on. Online posts by Kimura shortly before her death show her overwhelmed by the torrent.
Isn’t there a law, Weekly Playboy wonders, to protect people against this kind of assault?
A lot of people would like to know. “Since the Kimura affair, I’ve received a lot of queries,” says Nobutaka Fujiyoshi, a lawyer specializing in that area of law.
The circumstances fall into two broad categories, Fujiyoshi explains – slander and defamation. Posts, if false, such as “So-and-so has a criminal record;” “so-and-so is sleeping with so-and-so’s wife” are potentially slanderous. Gratuitous insults of the sort that rained down on Kimura are, if sufficiently extreme, defamatory.
But where is that elusive “borderline” between permissible and impermissible, tolerable and intolerable, legal and illegal?
Let’s consider some examples, suggests Fujjyoshi. “The ramen at such-and-such a restaurant is lousy.” Is that okay? Probably. Raise the volume a notch: “The ramen at such-and-such a restaurant is fit only for dogs.” Does that cross a line? Possibly, says Fujiyoshi.
Or this: “The owner of restaurant X is a smoker.” Safe, opines Fujiyoshi; it might say something about the restaurant’s atmosphere. What about “The owner of restaurant X sleeps around a lot”? Probably – but not definitely – out; it seems irrelevant to the quality of food, air and service.
Case by case, in short – or judge by judge, since it may depend on nothing more definite than how the court judge – civil or criminal as the case may be – happens to see it. How about – speaking of sleeping around – if the post is talking not about a restaurant owner but a politician? Probably safe, says Fujiyoshi – a public figure’s private life may well fall within the public’s right to know.
Does this help us navigate the Kimura case? “It’s on the borderline,” says Fujiyoshi – between freedom of speech, protected by the Constitution, and personal attack, which of course is not. Nor, however, is “attack” specifically banned – or even specifically defined. A court – again, civil or criminal – would have to assess its intensity. Kimura’s suicide would seem to mark the attacks she suffered as very intense indeed. Or it might mark her as insufficiently tough for the fame she’d sought and won.
There’s a hypothetical quality to all this anyway. Prosecution or civil claims would require identification of anonymous posters – who are unlikely to come forward.
Playboy’s point, if nothing else, is clear. Social media has a lot more evolving to do before laws governing it gain definition and strength. Meanwhile, the attacks roll on. Let the famous beware.© Japan Today