We live in an age of contention, when any comment can spark righteous indignation. Nominally conservative or progressive viewpoints become meaningless when every response is reactionary. This situation supposedly arose along with the Internet, which provides an unmediated outlet for every voice. Traditional media insisted on readers and viewers providing certifiable identification before printing or broadcasting their feedback, one of the ideas being that commenters will be more responsible for their opinions if forced to reveal their real names and addresses.

Recently, the Asahi Shimbun has slightly altered this policy. Though it still insists that letters to the editor be accompanied by real names, the paper no longer prints the city of residence, opting instead for the prefecture. In the past year, a number of letter writers' home phone numbers were located by parties with opposing opinions who then systematically harassed the letter writers. Last spring, the paper published a letter from someone in central Japan who disagreed with the view that the "comfort women" were all professional prostitutes rather than sex slaves. The person was bombarded with anonymous phone calls at home, some of which contained threats. Later this person found out his phone number had been distributed on Internet bulletin boards.

The National Consumer Affairs Center says that complaints about harassment centered on media correspondence increased markedly this past spring, and Asahi itself acknowledges that at least 30 people whose letters it published have had their home phone numbers revealed on the Internet, with 14 becoming victims of harassment. Tokyo Shimbun reports that one recent letter writer to the Asahi who complained about nationalist sentiments at sporting events was systematically harassed even though the paper only printed his prefecture. There are many ways of finding out a person's phone number. The paper said it discovered at least 800 examples of letter writers' phone numbers and addresses being posted on Internet bulletin boards.