Posting “online insults” will be punishable by up to a year in prison time in Japan starting Thursday, when a new law passed earlier this summer will go into effect.
People convicted of online insults can also be fined up to 300,000 yen (just over $2,200). Previously, the punishment was fewer than 30 days in prison and up to 10,000 yen ($75).
The law will be reexamined in three years to determine if it’s impacting freedom of expression — a concern raised by critics of the bill. Proponents said it was necessary to slow cyberbullying in the country.
But there aren’t clear definitions of what counts as an insult, Seiho Cho, a criminal lawyer in Japan, told CNN after the law passed. The law says an insult means demeaning someone without a specific fact about them — as opposed to defamation, which it classifies as demeaning someone while pointing to a specific fact about them. “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,” Cho said.
Japanese officials pushed a crackdown on cyberbullying after the death by suicide of reality television star Hana Kimura, who was subject to online abuse. Her mother pushed for more anti-cyberbullying policies after her death. Some research shows a relationship between suicidal behaviors and cyberbullying, though most research has been done on children and adolescents.
The United Kingdom also has laws criminalizing “grossly offensive” public messages, and people have been arrested and fined for tweets. The language in its policies is also ambiguous, and courts decide what counts as “grossly” offensive on a case-by-case basis.