The Metropolitan Police Department plans to send papers on 18 men and women, 17 to 45 years old, to public prosecutors for allegedly posting several hundreds of defamatory messages on the blog of a 37-year-old comedian. It has already sent papers on a 29-year-old woman from Kawasaki to public prosecutors for allegedly sending the message “I will kill you” to his blog.

This is the first criminal case to be built on the act of “flaming” — flooding a blog with slanderous messages. The unfounded comments posted by the 19 people suggested that the comedian was involved in the 1988 murder of a high school girl in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward, whose remains were found in a drum filled with concrete. Four minors received prison sentences in the case.

The “flamers” told investigators that it had not occurred to them that their acts constituted a crime. The Kawasaki woman even said she thought she was on the side of justice. The Internet enables anyone to freely express his or her opinions, but anonymity on the Internet can lead to excess. They failed to consider that freedom of expression carries a responsibility and that calling someone a murderer can devastate that person’s reputation.

“Flaming” has forced many celebrities, TV personalities and professional sports athletes to close their blogs. In Saitama, a 14-year-old middle school girl student killed herself in October apparently because of bullying comments posted against her on a mobile telephone site. In South Korea, a well-known 39-year-old actress killed herself last autumn apparently because of unfounded rumors on the Net that she was in the money-lending business.

In 2003, people contacted police in some 2,600 cases of slanderous messages on the Net. The number jumped to about 8,800 in 2008. Internet users should ask themselves whether they would send such messages if they were not kept anonymous. They should act wisely to preclude the government from intervening into Net freedom. Teaching children about Net ethics is important.

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