Japan is considering bolstering countermeasures against cyber-bullying following the death of a cast member of a popular Netflix reality show, communications minister Sanae Takaichi said Tuesday.
"It's necessary to properly implement procedures to disclose information on senders in order to curb online abuses and rescue victims," Takaichi said at a news conference days after Hana Kimura, a 22-year-old female professional wrestler who appeared on the show "Terrace House," died of an apparent suicide.
The government will look into having internet service providers reveal information, including phone numbers, at the victims' requests, officials said.
Kimura, who appeared on the reality show that featured three women and three men looking for love while sharing a house in Tokyo, had been the target of hateful messages on social media.
Takaichi said the government intends to revise a law "with a sense of speed" to simplify procedures to identify individuals who make defamatory posts online, aiming to compile draft legislation by the end of the year.
A group of social networking operators released a joint statment saying they will take steps including banning such offenders from using their services.
The industry body, joined by 17 operators including the Japanese arms of Facebook and Twitter as well as the provider of messaging app Line, said they will fully respect "the freedom of expression" and protect "the secrets of communications."
But the emergency statement also said that information should be disclosed appropriately according to law if victims want offenders to be identified.
Also Tuesday, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party held the first meeting of a project team it launched to make proposals to the government.
The existing law stipulates that if unanimous online posts violate human rights, the providers can delete such posts.
Victims of abusive posts can also directly request the providers to disclose information related to senders in seeking damages, but in many cases those senders are not identified, with the providers saying they do not see clear violations of human rights.
The number of cyber-bullying victims has sharply increased in recent years due to the widespread use of smartphones. A consultation center the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has set up received around 5,000 cases in fiscal 2019 ended in March, four times more than fiscal 2010.
A panel of legal experts at the ministry has been discussing ways to review the current system since last month, including disclosing senders' mobile phone numbers in addition to their names.
But some critics are wary that simpler procedures to identify those who post defamatory comments could infringe on their freedom of expression.
"Disclosing information on senders could suppress the freedom of expression and secrecy of communications guaranteed by the Constitution," said Yohei Shimizu, a lawyer who has handled numerous online-related cases.
Shimizu said there is a need for well-balanced discussion in crafting the new scheme while carefully weighing whether there could be a human rights violation.
Kimura was found collapsed at her home in the capital and confirmed dead at a hospital early Saturday. She is believed to have killed herself using toxic gas, according to investigative sources.
Emergency service in Japan: 119
If you are having suicidal thoughts, help is available.
For Japan, call Yorisoi Hotline at 0120279338 (toll-free). Press 2 after the recorded message for consultation in English, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai, Vietnamese, Nepali, or Indonesian. The service in these languages is also available on Facebook messenger.
For those outside Japan, you can find a list of other resources here.