Japan's Cyberbullying Law Could Throw Internet Trolls In Jail

Person behind bars (jail)
Japan this week passed amended legislation that could land a person in jail for up to a year for posting online insults. Prior to now, those who ran afoul of the law could be put behind bars for up to 30 days and fined 10,000 yen (around $75 in US currency). The fine has been increased as well, to 300,00 yen (around $2,200).

This is part of an effort to curb cyberbullying and online harassment. It came about amid increased concern over online behavior after the death of Hana Kimura, a professional wrestler and reality TV star on Netflix's Terrace House, who committed suicide in 2020 at 22 years old.

Her death brought increased attention to cyberbullying. Before she took her life, Kimura said on Twitter that she was frequently harassed online, receiving hateful messages from hundreds of accounts on a daily basis. One of those people ended up facing criminal chargers for sending insulting messages such as, "You have such an awful personality, is your life worth living?," and "Hey, hey. When will you die?," according to what police told AFP last year.

As to what constitutes an insult under Japanese law, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice told CNN that it amounts to publicly demeaning someone's social status without referring to specific facts about them or specific actions. It's not the same as defamation, which is also illegal.

Some have praised the amended law while others have criticized it. One of the concerns is how broadly the definition of an insult will be applied.

"There needs to be a guideline that makes a distinction on what qualifies as an insult. For example, at the moment, even if someone calls the leader of Japan an idiot, then maybe under the revised law that could be classed as an insult," Seiho Cho, a criminal lawyer in Japan, told the news outlet.

Meanwhile, Kimura's mother praised the legislation, saying during a press conference that people need to "know that cyber bulling is a crime."

The amended law will go into effect later this summer. In addition to a longer prison sentence and higher fine, it also increases the statue of limitations from one year to three years. The cyber bullying law passed after a provision was added to re-examine it after three years.