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Slanderous social media postings and false rumors are proliferating in cyberspace, with many victims harassed by words and images posted by invisible attackers.

Nishinippon Shimbun’s team of reporters on its “Journalism On Demand” beat received a note from a volunteer organization that has for years tackled these defamatory remarks by monitoring and calling on those who posted them to delete the content themselves.

“We want more people to know there’s a solution,” the note said.

Reporters met a member of the group, a man in his 30s, in the city of Kumamoto. The group, which previously called itself Cyber Auditor, has been involved in combating malicious posts since around 2005. The man’s main job is running an internet-related business.

He offered some examples of cases that the group has worked on.

“This person took a cut of (welfare) facility costs and is driving around in an imported luxury car. This is an atrocious human being.”

A series of disparaging posts in that vein, targeting one individual, was uploaded to YouTube in around mid-November last year. The channel used the logo of a company that the person deals with, but the postings were unfounded, the group said.

Almost every day a new slanderous video was uploaded, and it gradually became more and more radical by the day. Views for one video topped 2,000 within just two weeks of it being posted.

The victim had asked YouTube to delete the posts but the request was turned down with no explanation given. Other social media platforms also tend to decline removal requests in most cases, the man said.

Late last November, his group, calling itself a “third-party organization,” commented on the harasser’s page, saying that the posts are highly likely to be defamatory and that it had begun taking records of and monitoring the details of the postings. It also told the person that it would consult a lawyer and the police. Then by early December, all the posts had been deleted, the man said.

In 2014, a Yokohama-based female member of the group wrote a post on the message board of a judicial-related website setting out its determination to eradicate malicious posts on social media.

“We will show our stance that malicious comments are not permitted anywhere in the world. We will not leave malicious postings alone or let the matter drop. We will pinpoint a post directly and get the person’s attention one by one. Continuing this activity tenaciously will lead to a true solution.”

When a victim seeks help from the group, it issues a case number and notifies the harasser that the comments are being monitored. When the harasser enters the case number on the group’s website, it gives an update on the monitoring activity or the status of consultations with a lawyer.

The basic policy of the group is to urge the voluntary deletion of hurtful messages by highlighting examples of malicious posts. By having an organization that has expertise on the matter take charge, it puts pressure on the harassers more effectively than dealing with them alone, the group says.

The group consists of five core members, both men and women, across Japan. All of them have supported the service on a voluntary basis in addition to their regular jobs.

“Although I was once contacted by a victim once who was distressed and cornered by the posts, all that person could do was give in, and that experience was the trigger” for the launch of the group, a female member of the group said in an online interview.

The victims have recourse to other actions, such as asking lawyers to request the disclosure of a harasser’s identity or the deletion of malicious postings, but it’s usually time-consuming and costly.

The group says it has worked on about 1,500 cases over the past 15 years, with about 1,300 of them leading to the deletion of the postings, apologies and other moves to limit the posts. Most of the cases reached a solution within two weeks, it added.

To increase the number of cases, it is considering charging a fee for the service.

“Coronavirus-related slanderous remarks are soaring,” the male member of the group stressed. “We are worried that companies will be unable to open for business or go bankrupt (because of malicious posts), or the number of people who kill themselves may rise. The need for monitoring is only growing.”

This section features topics and issues from the Kyushu region covered by the Nishinippon Shimbun, the largest daily newspaper in Kyushu. The original article was published March 15.

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