• Kyodo, Jiji

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A government panel agreed Thursday that victims of cyberbullying should have the right to ask website and social media operators and internet service providers to disclose names and phone numbers of those who have made defamatory posts.

But while the communications ministry panel also called for discussing how to ease conditions on the release of information leading to the identification of anonymous users posting defamatory comments, some members expressed concern that doing so could infringe on their freedom of expression.

The government has been seeking to bolster measures to counter online abuse, particularly after the death last month of a cast member of the popular Netflix reality show “Terrace House” who was subjected to a barrage of hateful messages on social media.

Under the current law, people in general must go through multiple court proceedings before they can identify individuals who make hateful posts against them, and many give up. To simplify the process, the ministry set up the panel in April to discuss changes.

As social networking service operators often do not possess the names and addresses of individuals posting defamatory messages, the victims turn to internet service providers for information based on when the abusive posts were made and other details provided by the social media companies.

Many providers, however, have been reluctant to supply such information, saying they do not see clear violations of human rights.

Once phone numbers are revealed, lawyers can refer to telephone companies and identify the individuals making abusive posts.

However, some say that the effect of including phone numbers in the list of information subject to disclosure will be limited.

“Not all users making posts have their phone numbers registered, and there are cases in which carriers do not adhere to requests for information disclosure from lawyers,” Rio Saito, a lawyer specializing in online rights violations, said.

Social media companies tend to disclose information when there have been clear violations of privacy rights. But there are no criteria for determining such disclosures, and it is rare for social media firms to release such information voluntarily. The expert panel will consider drawing up standards to help promote voluntary disclosure.

Calls for legal changes have been growing after Hana Kimura, 22, the reality show cast member, was found dead in a suspected suicide late last month after being targeted with hateful messages on social media.

The female professional wrestler posted a picture of herself on Instagram with the words “I’m sorry” shortly before her death was confirmed May 23.

The ministry received more than 5,000 complaints about online abuse including defamation in fiscal 2019, about a fourfold jump from fiscal 2010. It aims to compile draft legislation by the end of the year.

The private sector is also moving to take measures against online abuse. The Safer Internet Association, made up of information technology firms, said Thursday that it will set up an online hotline for consultations from bullying victims and social media firms.

The group will aid victims in gathering information on perpetrators and getting abusive posts taken down.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 119 in Japan for immediate assistance. The TELL Lifeline is available for those who need free and anonymous counseling at 03-5774-0992. You can also visit them at telljp.com. For those in other countries, visit www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html for a detailed list of resources and assistance.

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