Social media has been a mixed emotional experience in Japan during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many individuals, the internet has been a true lifeline in such difficult times, offering users a way to connect with others as they stay at home as well as provide ample distraction from the uncertain reality outside. It’s also providing a platform that businesses facing tough financial times have been able to use to help raise much-needed funds.

Social media can also be a source of stress and emotional distress — and that’s before we even start to consider more serious issues such as cyberbullying. This was obviously the case before the pandemic as well, but it has certainly intensified over the past 12 months. While generalizing about a platform that boasts millions of users is arguably risky, Twitter in particular has felt more on edge than usual in the first couple of months of 2021.

While the U.S. presidential election in November and then the final days in office of President Donald Trump were always going to be divisive insofar as social media was concerned, a number of more trivial issues in recent months have sparked several heated conversations. In one case, a judgmental tweet about anime spurred a lot of anger about “gatekeeping.”

The online hostility has been just as noticeable among Japanese Twitter users, who appear to be routinely finding new issues to vent about. Indeed, 2021 has thus far been a constant airing of grievances, with users who have been burned out by a year derailed by COVID-19 finding fresh — and sometimes familiar — ways of releasing their pent-up anger.

Consider Gackt. The musician-turned-entertainment personality has had an awkward relationship with the internet since the turn of the millennium. He has been involved in several online controversies over the past two decades, but has also been celebrated on social media as a result of his willingness to openly criticize the Japanese government.

However, Gackt has found himself at the center of attention in recent weeks after a video was uploaded onto his YouTube channel on Feb. 10 showing the entertainer giving away a puppy he had acquired about five months earlier.

Netizens were quick to show their displeasure. Gackt was heavily criticized on Twitter and also in the comments section of the video, while the upload was also massively downvoted (59,000 users have hit the thumbs-down icon at the time of writing). Indeed, so much criticism flooded in that the entertainer was forced to close down the comments section of his entire YouTube channel. Well-known YouTube personalities such as PDRsan started to discuss the incident as well as Gackt’s subsequent explanations, and news of the outrage eventually reached online publications such as Gendai and even mainstream television.

Meanwhile, if there’s one topic in Japan that can rile netizens more than pets, it’s anime. The “Demon Slayer” series remains something of a phenomenon nationwide and, not surprisingly, many were thrilled upon watching a preview of the forthcoming season of the show in February. The positive reviews didn’t last long, however, and media reports started to come in claiming that mothers were worried that the upcoming season is problematic because it’s set in a red-light district.

Fans responded with fury. Many simply shrugged their shoulders and urged concerned parents to stick with Anpanman. On Twitter, however, posts were a little more direct, with some users wondering why children wouldn’t have already encountered such scenes in the manga already or how similar backdrops have appeared in other popular anime series.

The hostility became particularly acidic once some used this incident — along with another recent flare-up over long-running series “Sazae-san,” a benign show if there ever was one — to complain about feminist movements in Japan and attack certain claims they have made.

For all of the benefits of social media, conversations on platforms such as Twitter can quickly overwhelm users once others start to lash out.

It’s perhaps worth noting here, though, that the recent hostility one can see on Twitter may actually be a good sign, and people arguing over pets and anime may suggest the world is slowly turning away from being completely consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

And with vaccinations having recently started in Japan, one hopes that many of the matters that brought people down in 2020 will slowly recede. As the situation gradually improves, is it a little too early to pray for an opportunity to switch off from social media for a while in order to enjoy all the things the outside world can provide?

At the very least, people’s attention on social media might eventually be able to turn to something other than the turmoil of life amid a pandemic.

Now wouldn’t that be something positive to complain about?

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