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Japan struggles to extinguish online ‘flaming’
InternationalOct 23. 2020A user in Osaka edits a news article on a website that features user-generated content. (This photo image has been partially modified. – The Yomiuri Shimbun)
By The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Japan News/ANN
The number of incidents of fake news being posted on websites with user-generated content is continuing to increase. Because the revenue of such sites is dependent upon the number of viewers they receive, many of these sites will post information that is either inaccurate or unconfirmed if it means the number of viewers will increase.
Back in July 2017, a man in his 40s, who once was employed part-time, was described on such a website as “an extremely biased person” and “a left-wing activist.” The article also made it seem as though he was urging others to take part in an anti-war demonstration in front of the Diet Building.
In reality, however, the source was a post from a different person on social media. Even though none of the article’s information had been fact-checked, his real name had been posted and he was defamed as someone who “has been unable to get married or become a regular employee mostly because of his eccentric personality and social activism.”
At that time, that particular website was estimated to have gotten as many as 2 million views a month, and the article was quickly spread around on social media. Not only was his home address posted online, but the location of his office was as well, leading to his employer receiving a barrage of emails demanding that he be dismissed. Since this incident, the man has become afraid of being recognized when out on the street and no longer feels safe enough to leave his home except when going to work.
Why was such information about an ordinary man posted on such a website in the first place? Along with that particular article, a video clip of the man making an appearance under his real name on a special TV program on the subject of non-regular employment was also posted. Therefore, there is a possibility that someone who watched the program posted false information with the aim of “flaming” him, or purposefully spreading false or malicious information.
The victim requested that the website operator delete the article, but he said that he received no reply. As a result, in April 2019, the victim, together with four others who were the victims of defamation on the same website, brought a suit before the Tokyo District Court against the operator and other entities for a combined total of ¥16.5 million in damages. Meanwhile, the operator has made clear its intention of fully fighting back against the claim, saying that the article in question “does not constitute defamation.”
■ Operator’s request
“I was asked by the website’s operator to write articles with content that was as extreme as possible,” said a former writer for the website. A few years prior, the writer had undergone a job interview for the website that took place over the phone, lasted only a few minutes and concluded with the writer agreeing to an outsourcing contract with the operator.
The assigned task was to write two articles a day. According to the editing manual used at that time, the amount writers were paid for an article was decided based on the number of times their piece was shared on Facebook. If that number was less than 500, there was no pay. The pay scale increased gradually: If the number of shares surpassed 10,000, writers would be paid between ¥3,000 and ¥6,700. The former writer recalls there also being a topic category specifically for flaming on that particular website.
“I found that my articles became rather extreme the more I tried to gain a higher number of views.”
There has also been an increase in the number of individuals establishing their own websites in a similar style. An Osaka man in his 20s launched his own website around autumn last year, wanting to earn income outside of his regular job and hoping to earn revenue from advertisements. He decides the subject of his articles by watching TV programs, YouTube videos, and browsing social media.
Writing an article only takes a few hours.
“It would be an inefficient use of time to check whether the news is accurate or not. In order to get as many page views as possible, I don’t really have a choice but to include information that may not be true.”
■ Experts caution govt intervention
Misinformation and infringement of copyright related to such websites have long been an issue.
In 2016, IT firm DeNA Co. suspended all 10 of its websites — including those related to medical care — for reasons including misinformation and the use of information without permission. Last month, a website called “Naver Matome,” operated by the LINE group and the subject of a controversy related to the unauthorized use of photographs and videos, was shut down.
This February, an expert panel at the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry presented measures for dealing with fake news. While cautioning the government over its intervention methods, citing freedom of expression, the panel urged each social media operator to take voluntary preventative action as well.