Japan vows to tackle cyberbullying after reality star’s suicide

The death of professional wrestler and reality television star Kimura Hana has prompted the Japanese government to take action against cyberbullying. Kimura was apparently driven to suicide by the intense online abuse she received after her appearances on a popular Netflix show.

The 22-year-old Kimura had been a cast member in the latest season of “Terrace House”, a hit reality show broadcast by Fuji Television and distributed by Netflix. It follows a group of strangers living together in a shared residence, and has launched the careers of several TV and movie stars.

Kimura joined the show in September and was targeted by cyberbullying. The abuse got especially bad following an episode aired in March, in which she yelled at a roommate for accidentally shrinking one of her wrestling costumes. In the days after the broadcast, she received a torrent of hateful messages. She was found dead in her Tokyo home on May 23.

“People said they want me to die,” Kimura posted on Twitter the day of her death. “They want me to disappear. I’m sorry. I’m not strong enough to handle this.”

“Terrace House” is carried by Netflix in about 190 countries and territories.

On May 26, Communications Minister Takaichi Sanae said the government is planning to revise an existing law that allows cyberbullying victims to request personal information on their tormentors.

The law currently allows victims to request the information from Internet providers so they can sue their abusers for damages. But experts say this involves a lengthy and costly legal process, and that the posters are impossible to identify in many cases.

“The law was put into place nearly 20 years ago, before social media existed,” says Shimizu Yohei, a lawyer and cyberbullying expert. “It needs to be updated if it’s going to prevent cases like this one.”

Takaichi says she has appointed an expert panel to consider possible revisions to the law, including speeding up the process for victims to get the information. She says she hopes to have a draft of the new bill as soon as possible.

In the meantime, the future of Terrace House is in the balance. The show halted production in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and now two episodes that were set to be aired in the coming weeks will not be released.

Mizukoshi Emika was on the show with Kimura and says she received similar abuse.

“People told me to die,” Mizukoshi wrote in an Instagram post. “And they said the abuse is part of the job. But people who appear on TV have feelings too. Words can be used as weapons.”