Last year, Hana Kimura, a pro-wrestler and star of the Japanese reality show Terrace House: Tokyo, reportedly took her life following relentless cyber-bulling. Now a Japanese court has charged an unnamed Osaka man $81 over his abusive messages towards Kimura, the Washington Post reports. It’s rare to see courts come down on cyber-bullying in general, but this particular ruling has struck some of Kimura’s fans as particularly lenient. Online trolls are a dime-a-dozen, but in this case, the messages to Kimura included asking her, “When will you die?”
What should be the true cost of cyber-bullying, especially when it leads to a potential suicide? In December, Nikkei Asia reported that the Osaka man, who admitted to a public insult charge, could be imprisoned for up to 29 days, or up to 10,000 yen (around $90). The final ruling is on the high-end of the potential fine, but doesn’t include any jail time. Nikkei notes the troll told police that he wanted to “get back” at Kimura, following an incident with a male cast member on Terrace House (which also led to a slew of hateful messages from other viewers). He’s also written an apology letter to Kimura’s family, according to investigators.
Kyoko Kimura, the star’s mother and a professional wrestler herself, also took the producers of Terrace House to task for stoking conflict between its contestants. She filed a claim of human rights abuse, the Washington Post reports, but that was struck down by Japan’s Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization. It admitted that Terrace House’s parent network, Fuji TV, had “problems in terms of broadcasting ethics,” and didn’t pay enough attention to the well-being of cast members. But despite that finding, the agency also didn’t consider it a human rights violation.
Kimura’s tragic story is a combination of the world of reality TV, where producers often goad participants into dramatic stand-offs, and the dramatic rise of cyberbullying over the last decade. The UK reality series Love Island is directly tied to several cast suicides, including former beauty queen Sophie Gradon and football player Mike Thalassitis. Contestants from other shows, including Hell’s Kitchen and American Idol, have also struggled following their quick rise to fame. And while there’s been increased attention on cyberbullying in schools, we’re still figuring out how to prevent online trolling before it leads to dramatic consequences. According to the Pew Research Foundation, 59 percent of US teens reported being bullied or harassed online, and 90 percent believe it’s a genuine problem affecting their age group.
If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or over an online chat.