Japan makes online insults punishable. The suicide of a popular TV star who became a victim of online harassment was a pivotal point. Are fears of suppression of free speech justified?
Free-speech advocates seem to be telling us that online insult is somehow less harmful than the “real” one. Growing cases of self-harm, depression, and suicide as a result of online harrassment tell a different story. Online bullying left unpunished often paves the ground for physical assaults.
A seemingly justified concern is the vague definition of “insult” in such legislation. People raise concern that any negative opinion about politicians or famous figures can be qualified as punishable. Yet I believe that we’re not as helpless, as advocates of unmitigated freedom of online expression claim. After all, countries already have legislation in place which defines precisely what constitutes a punishable insult. If the only difference is the medium, not the content, a relaxed approach to online assaults is not justified.
Please ask yourself and answer honestly: Are we legally allowed to approach and insult random people on the streets? What about our family and friends, are we free to harass them verbally without consequences? When buying a local newspaper, is the publisher obliged to add a 100-pages thick supplement full of harsh expletives from the entire town population?
Then why are we granting such freedoms to online creeps?
As online harassment goes unchecked, it inevitably seeps into real life. Years pass and millions of angry people have been thoroughly conditioned to believe that also in the real world it’s okay to insult and stalk total strangers, to be rude and demanding, shun away basic forms of politeness and address other people like feudal landlords did. They’re completely unaware that while my freedom from their insults is guaranteed by law, their “freedom to insult” is only a delusional claim.
So, lawmakers, more of it, please :-)