Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Back Channel School Sites" in Japan

Recently there has been a phenomenon in Japanese society of clandestine websites run by middle and high school students known as “Urasaito”, or literally “back channel school sites”. These sites generally have message boards that allow students to exchange information as bland and trivial as homework and class announcements, but more importantly, have too often become a place for harassment, bullying, and slander. More than 40% of respondents to a survey stated that the worst part about these sites was the libeling that goes on.

The bullying that occurs on these sites all have a common characteristic—teachers and parents remain painfully unaware, and often until it is too late. These sites, estimated to be at least 200,000 in number by some experts, are unofficial sites of the school and hard to find for unknowing adults because most of them are titled using nicknames or abbreviations of the school and are spread by word of mouth. This issue came to the forefront of national concern in 2004 when a 6th grader was stabbed to death by her classmate because of comments on a website. Since then, there have been numerous cases similar in nature.

One of the reasons this is a problem specific to Japan is that Japanese cell phones are unique in that almost all of them come with access to the internet and internet use through cell phones is very widespread. A survey found that 40% of respondents accessed the internet from cell phones, while 60% accessed from computers. Internet use from cell phones is much harder for parents to monitor than internet use from PCs, thus many parents and teachers remain oblivious and have a hard time fully grasping the issue.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications are trying to tackle this problem by requiring providers to supply a filtering service for all underaged cell phone users. However, experts believe that this will not be sufficient, as some “back channel school sites” are still accessible through these filters.


Mike Plugh said...

Great post Chihiro. I'm studying in NYC right now, but I've been living and working in Japan for 4 years. Bullying is a huge problem and the technology that young people use adds a new element to the problem that the older generation doesn't understand.

I think older generations in Japan are less aware of the technology that their kids use than a lot of Western people. It's not so much that Western adults know more as it is that Japanese youth are more absorbed in their communication technology than their Western counterparts.

This problem is also largely a cultural phenomenon that manifests itself differently in Japan and America. The problem exists in both countries (as we see in MySpace related bullying which has led to suicide in several cases), but the likelihood of Japanese high school and junior high school students to internalize the bullying seems much greater.

Great post.

ehkuso said...

In what sense is this problem specific to Japan? The term "cyber bullying" originated in Britain. If you check the Internet, you will find that this problem is found in all countries where children have access to the Internet.

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