Japan Makes Insulting People Online a Punishable Crime

It’s no secret that online hate has serious mental health ramifications. Japan has taken this issue very seriously as ‘online insults’ are now considered a punishable crime in the country.

In May of 2020, the 22-year-old Japanese reality star and professional wrestler, Hana Kimura, was pronounced dead. Kimura was seen on Netflix’s Terrance House. Allegedly, the reality star took her life after an avalanche of hateful comments and cyberbullying via her social media. Before her tragic death, Kimura posted an Instagram story with the caption “goodbye.”

Following the death of Kimura, Japan sought to make concrete changes regarding ‘online insults.’ On Monday, June 13, their parliament passed legislation at an Upper House plenary session. Taking effect later in the summer, the country will punish online insult offenders with up to one year in prison, or a fine of 300,000 yen, which is 2,230.85 United States Dollars. The current penalty for online insults in Japan is up to 30 days of detention or a fine of fewer than 10,000 yen. The new amendment will increase both punishments.

According to The Japan Times, “insults are distinguished from defamation in that the former publicly demeans someone without referring to a specific action, but both are punishable under the law.” As of today, the level of insult deemed punishment worthy remains undecided.

Seiho Cho, a Japan-based criminal lawyer, believes that “There needs to be a guideline that makes a distinction on what qualifies as an insult.” He said, “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.”

While it has been highly controversial due to fear of impediment to speaking freely, the new bill will be reviewed within 3 years of its implementation to ensure fairness and confirm that it does not restrict the freedom of speech.

Although the updated legislation does not have the support of all, those in favor are hopeful that the stricter punishment of online insults will greatly diminish cyberbullying and online harassment and improve mental health.

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