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Counselling services in Japan have expressed optimism that the government’s plans to crack down on cyberbullying will have a positive impact, but they are concerned that a culture of bullying in schools, the workplace and society in general will be difficult to eradicate entirely.
The government announced it will draw up proposals to revise and strengthen legislation against cyberbullying following the death of Hana Kimura, 22, on Saturday. The professional wrestler and star of the Netflix reality television show Terrace House is believed to have taken her own life after becoming the target of online abuse.
“It is necessary to properly implement procedures to disclose information on message senders in order to curb online abuses and protect victims,” said Sanae Takaichi, the communications minister. Lawmakers hope to introduce the new legislation before the end of the year.
The new measures under consideration include requiring internet service providers to release information on people who send threatening or abusive messages.
An industry organisation representing operators of social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, said it would take additional steps to halt online abuse, such as banning repeat offenders. The companies insisted, however, that they will respect freedom of expression and the privacy of their users, but will comply if the new legislation compels them to provide data to law enforcement officers.
Yukio Saito, executive director of the Lifeline telephone counselling service, welcomed the government’s move but warned that many hurdles remain.
“Bullying is common in Japanese society and, I fear, difficult to stop,” he said. “Many Japanese people live in their own small worlds and have little interest in or understanding of other people.”
Saito said bullies thrive because Japanese are reluctant to get involved in other people’s problems.
“As well as new laws, we must teach people how important it is to understand the agony of the victims and to intervene,” Saito said. “And victims must also be brave enough to speak out when they are in pain. No-one should have to keep that inside and they must have people and places that are there to help them.”
Bullying is almost woven into the fabric of this society.
TELL clinical director William Cleary
William Cleary, clinical director for the TELL crisis support line, agreed that some of the unique facets of Japanese society effectively encourage bullying and that changing a national mindset will be difficult.
“Culturally, Japan functions in many ways quite differently to other parts of the world,” he said. “Bullying is almost woven into the fabric of this society, whether that’s the ‘sempai-kohai’ (senior-junior) relationship, the deference to the teacher, coach of the team and then the boss in the workplace.”
A person’s ability to fit in with their team, organisation or company therefore has a huge impact on their future with the group, he said.
Japan is not the only country experiencing problems with this new form of bullying, Cleary pointed out, but he fears that society is still not taking the issue seriously enough.
For example, when foreign media organisations cover suicide cases, most now include details on where people struggling with mental health issues can go for help. Japanese media have not taken the same steps in their reporting of Hana Kimura’s death, he said.
Social media users have also criticised the fact that it took the death of a celebrity to galvanise the government into taking steps to bolster laws around cyberbullying.
“Bullying has been going on for ages and now they’re going to take action?” said one message on the Japan Today website, adding a sarcastic, “Nice that the (Japanese government) always has the people in their thoughts.”
Another added, “With all the children who have been victimised by cyberbullying, it takes a famous adult’s death for the government to step up its game.”
Cleary said many problems in Japan do not attract significant attention until “they rise to the surface”, but he remains optimistic that the discussions taking place around cyberbullying and the government’s willingness to act will finally have a positive impact.
“In April, stricter new laws on child abuse came into effect and the issue is now very much on the public’s radar, which is causing a shift in ordinary people’s thinking,” he said. “I hope we can now see a similar shift in the culture that surrounds bullying and the provision of more support to victims.”
This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact Samaritans of Singapore at 1800 221 4444, or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find a list of international helplines here.
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