Chiitan the otter was riding high this spring. After becoming one of the most popular characters in the country thanks to its chaotic online behavior, Chiitan started appearing everywhere in the media.
Chiitan’s star dimmed somewhat after the city of Susaki, Kochi Prefecture, attempted to distance itself from the independent mascot, but this only gave Chiitan further encouragement. HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” featured the otter in one segment, crescendoing with the debut of the host’s own interpretation of the character. Suddenly, a whole new demographic knew about the otter.
Then everything took a turn. Twitter last week suspended Chiitan’s Japanese account @love2chiitan alongside a variety of handles in other countries. Chiitan’s English-language account @ogecebel immediately attempted to rally support by using memes, but it didn’t take long before its account was also suspended.
Thus began an ongoing saga that combines many elements of modern online life into an incident centered around a giant otter prone to shenanigans. The furor touches on fandom in the digital age, conflicting information and the rules of social media that users typically don’t think too much about.
Chiitan wasn’t alone in seeing its Twitter presence iced. Twitter appears to have started suspending accounts operated by a handful of entertainers on May 14, including members of the idol pop group Kamen Joshi and virtual YouTuber Kagura Mea. Interested parties looked closer and noticed that many of these handles had lost a huge number of followers after Twitter removed fake accounts, the type of creations made for those purchasing followers.
Chiitan quickly became caught up in this. One person who spoke to domestic media outlets on condition of anonymity claimed the Chiitan account had bought followers, but a spokesperson from Kleeblatt, Chiitan’s management company, denied that allegation.
Another spokesperson from Kleeblatt separately told The Japan Times the agency had no idea a suspension was in the works and that it was trying to work something out with Twitter in an attempt to resolve the situation. “We only want them to cancel the suspension, so we’ll keep asking,” the spokesperson said.
Nevertheless, people are still trying to work out why Chiitan’s account was suspended in the first place.
Some have claimed Susaki is responsible for the account being suspended (a claim the city itself rejected in an article by The New York Times — yes, The New York Times covered this issue as well). Mondo Mascots founder Chris Carlier suggested that concerned parents might be behind the move, while others believed TV host Oliver might have initiated the action as part of their “feud.”
Risa Nakanishi, head of policy communications at Twitter Japan, says the company does not comment on individual accounts due to privacy and security considerations.
However, an inside source familiar with the matter said the Chiitan account had accrued multiple violations of Twitter’s spam rules. The specific violations weren’t disclosed.
Whatever the reason, Chiitan fans have vigorously jumped to the defense of the otter. A petition on change.org titled “Bring Chiitan Back to Twitter” gained some traction, although such online petitions rarely result in change.
Myriad tweets expressed shock at the suspension or took the opportunity to criticize Twitter’s priorities at a time when many individuals with extreme nationalist and racist views can be found on the platform. One has to wonder why Kamen Joshi fans haven’t been quite so vocal?
It’s a messy situation that shows how difficult it can be to regulate social media. Chiitan’s case, however, might just reach a happy conclusion. Several days after this started, a new official Japanese-language account launched, and hope remains that other suspended accounts can return.
It’s probably a good idea for Chiitan to double-check Twitter’s policies before the otter gets distracted by such things as pummeling a punching bag, falling off a pogo stick, failing to keep up with a running machine or losing control of a bicycle while trying to fire an arrow from a bow.