Victims of social media slander in Japan face hurdles to get help

Victims of slanderous comments on social media in Japan find that the tangle of legal proceedings and the ignorance of foreign operators of Japanese laws make finding the perpetrators an almost Herculean task.

When trying to take their case to court, the defamed people quickly discover that preparing for the trial takes a lot of time, work and money due to various obstacles.

For starters, many social media platform operators, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, are based in the United States. Additionally, the popular video-sharing site TikTok is run by ByteDance in China.

For this reason, people who are victims of insulting and discriminatory messages, as well as offensive images and videos, via these sites must file lawsuits against the headquarters of the operators in the United States and China to seek justice.

Original and translated qualification certificates, or company records, from platform providers are required for testing. Obtaining the documents in person takes time, so the communications records for derogatory remarks could be deleted in the process.

Although Japanese brokers have certificates in stock to allow people to buy them quickly, their translation and other fees often total no less than 50,000 yen ($432) to 60,000 yen.

Copies of some lawyers’ records are available for several thousand yen, and the Mercari e-commerce marketplace also sells them cheaper. Yet it is not practical to have certificates on hand.

“The certificates are sometimes out of stock, although procedures should be continued as soon as possible, leaving people no choice but to buy them at higher rates,” said a lawyer from the Kanto region around from Tokyo.

If changes are made to company specifications, such as renaming Facebook to Meta and replacing Twitter’s CEO, updated documents reflecting the changes must be submitted, requiring complainants to take further action. .

Just securing the necessary documents does not mean that everything is complete.

Complaints must be sent through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to file a lawsuit against social media operators outside Japan, and the first lawsuit usually begins six months or more later.

A Tokyo lawyer who sued Twitter in January 2021 on behalf of a woman injured by an insulting message said her first legal session started as late as around the end of September this year.

IGNORANCE OF THE LAW

Satoshi Fukazawa, a lawyer who has been engaged in numerous court cases to demand the disclosure of the identity of perpetrators of insults, pointed out that service providers’ ignorance of corporate law is causing the problem.

“Many people just gave up without doing anything because it took a lot of time and money or the telecom logs were wiped out,” Fukazawa said. “If operators adhered to the Companies Act, this would never happen.”

The Company Law stipulates that foreign operators carrying on business in Japan on a permanent basis must register as foreign companies in the country and appoint local representatives responsible for all operations in the state.

One problem is that when violations of the law are upheld by Japanese courts, companies will face a paltry administrative fine of up to 1 million yen. This has nothing to do with the hundreds of millions of euros inflicted as sanctions on the American information technology giants, including the so-called GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon), for various reasons in Europe.

As a result, many foreign companies have not yet officially registered in Japan, rendering the law a “dead letter”, according to Masahiro Sogabe, a law professor at Kyoto University’s graduate school.

Asked about the issue through surveys conducted by The Asahi Shimbun in 2021, Google’s Japanese subsidiaries ByteDance and Meta, operator of Facebook and Instagram, said they had not been officially listed as foreign companies in Japan. .

Facebook’s Japanese headquarters explained that it “does not do continuous business in Japan.” Google’s Japanese office declined to comment, while no response came from ByteDance.

The Japanese Twitter subsidiary declined to comment on “any details, including whether our company is registered or not.”

MOVEMENTS IN POLITICS, GOVERNMENT

Tetsuo Morishita, a professor of international trade law at Sophia University Law School, described the current situation as probably inappropriate.

“The Company Law provision is designed to protect business partners (service users) in Japan,” Morishita said. “Whether companies offer their services to Japanese customers in a well-organized manner is a deciding factor, and social media providers already conduct a significant volume of transactions with users in Japan, indicating that they should be officially registered under applicable law.

Referring to the reason, Morishita said, “Operators doing business globally may see the appointment of their authorized representatives in Japan as taxing.”

To solve the problem, political circles are mobilizing.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Subcommittee on Countermeasures Against Online Slander issued an emergency statement in June 2021 as part of efforts to respond to hate speech on the internet, calling for “the thorough registration of foreign providers of social media and other services”.

“It is unacceptable for operators doing business and generating advertising revenue in Japan to contribute to an environment where, for example, legal proceedings are difficult,” said Lower House MK Masahisa Miyazaki, deputy secretary general. committee. “Thorough steps should be taken to register them as foreign companies under Japanese law so that they conduct their operations after clearly indicating where the responsibility lies.”

In line with the policy decision, the Ministry of Justice posted a sign on its website in October 2021 calling on foreign companies to officially register in Japanese and English.

In November, the Department of Justice also began seeking information on possible breaches of the Companies Act from other departments and agencies.

(This article was written by Hiroki Ito, Makoto Tsuchiya, and Erika Toh.)

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