Teen Web site slander spinning out of control
A work by photographer Ken Domon (1909-1990) shows a group of youngsters playing a game of samurai swordfight on a side street. The scene is from half a century ago. Wielding long sticks, the boys look pretty serious.
It must hurt to be hit by one of those sticks. The kid on the receiving end may get a bump on his head and start to cry. But his crying face would make everybody aware of the pain they could cause one another, and teach them not to hit too hard. A playmate's tears make the youngsters readily see if they've gone too far, and learn to be more considerate to one another.
It appears that ugly, hurtful words are easier to write than to actually say to someone's face. So-called gakko ura sites, which are unofficial school Web sites set up by junior and senior high school students to exchange information about school life, have emerged as a new social problem.
Because all posts are anonymous, some of these sites often invite outright slander. For instance, one post attacked a student by name, telling the student, "Drop dead, you fat pig." In another post, a girl accused of "selling sexual favors to older men" was identified by name.
Having heard of these cases, all I can say is that those teens are writing whatever they want. They probably cannot even imagine their classmates breaking down in tears. They write anything they want because they can hide behind anonymity. From their words, I sense not only their malice, but their insensitivity and cowardice as well.
At the National Conference on Educational Research held by the Japan Teachers Union (Nikkyoso) at the beginning of February, this problem was addressed. A junior high school teacher said he had warned at a school assembly, "Every time you post that sort of slanderous comment, your soul is going to dry up."
I was reminded of the novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by British author Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). As the protagonist continues to lead a life of debauchery, his face in his portrait gradually turns ugly to reflect his soul. The central theme of this novel is that the portrait is none other than Dorian Gray's soul itself.
I just hope that the ugly words posted on those gakko ura sites are not "portraits" of their writers' souls. Measures are definitely needed to stop the situation from spinning out of control.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 8(IHT/Asahi: February 9,2008)