EDITORIAL: Japan must root out all false racist rumors during disasters
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The Asahi Shimbun June 21, 2018 Author not credited
Following a powerful earthquake that occurred June 18 with its epicenter in northern Osaka Prefecture, all kinds of false rumors started flying on the Internet, spreading through Twitter and other social media.
False information like fake news about a derailment accident involving a specific railway line quickly faded away as the targeted organizations denied it.
What is disturbing is the proliferation of social media posts aimed at promoting discrimination and prejudice against foreign residents in Japan.
Many of these hate posts warned against crimes by members of a specific ethnic group, such as ethnic Koreans living in Japan.
Others claimed that damage caused by the earthquake to important cultural assets “may have been done by foreigners.”
Such ungrounded and malicious rumors spread like wildfire, unchecked as the anonymity of the Web makes it difficult to track down the originators.
Vicious rumors attacking specific races also circulated in the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and also following the series of massive quakes that ravaged wide areas in and around Kumamoto Prefecture in April 2016.
We find it infuriating that many such outrageous acts were committed again after the earthquake in Osaka, which has a large population of foreign residents.
Some two years have passed since the law to crack down on hate speech came into effect after the Kumamoto earthquakes.
The law, which provides for no punishment against the discriminatory acts it denounces, failed to prevent the spread of hate social media posts this time.
It is clearly necessary for our society to make steady efforts to root out all forms of hate speech.
The efforts must start at the operators of social networking services.
Some declare a ban on hate posts in the rules for using their services and regularly eliminate malicious posts in response to requests and reports.
Social media service providers should step up their efforts to respond quickly to hate posts by capitalizing on the experience and expertise they have accumulated while protecting freedom of speech.
On the day the latest quake took place, the Osaka prefectural government posted warnings in its official Twitter page and website against the spread of inaccurate information, urging people not to pass on unconfirmed information.
The Justice Ministry’s Human Rights Bureau also warned against false information in its official Twitter page.
Kim Kwang-min, secretary-general of the Osaka-based Korea NGO Center, a citizen group of Korean residents in Japan, suggests that local governments should include measures to deal with false rumors in their disaster response programs.
Adopting this idea poses some challenges, such as how to secure necessary manpower in the wake of a disaster. But it could help if local governments demonstrate their commitment to tackling this problem and make necessary preparations.
Confusion caused by false rumors during a major earthquake is not a problem that was only born after the Internet came into widespread use.
The 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, which flattened much of Tokyo and surrounding areas, triggered mass killings of Koreans and Chinese by citizens and law-enforcement officers who believed false rumors. We must never forget this grim chapter of history.
We are all responsible to learn lessons from the past and share a commitment to rejecting hate speech.
This problem is a key test of our moral fiber and willingness to take corrective actions as individual members of society.