Social media rumour mongers accuse Chinese of looting in Osaka quake aftermath

Claims foreigners might attack locals or steal have been slammed by Japanese authorities

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 9:23pm

Rumours that spread on social media about foreigners carrying out robberies or terrorist attacks after the June 18 earthquake in Osaka have been widely condemned as racist fearmongering.

Four people died and 300 were admitted to hospitals after the magnitude 6.1 earthquake just before 8am on Monday.

Within hours, messages appeared on Twitter and other social media outlets warning that foreigners – Chinese and Koreans were singled out – were about to target shops or carry out attacks on members of the public.

“When a quake happens in the Kansai region, there is a strong possibility of Chinese and Koreans engaging in wrongdoing,” wrote one Twitter user. “It’s possible they will go after ATMs in banks and convenience stores.”

Another added, “Who are the Koreans poisoning water in the wells every time a quake happens?”

Other unfounded rumours claimed that a train derailed and a zebra escaped from a local zoo.

The Osaka Prefectural government reacted swiftly to the posts and called on the public not to share groundless claims on the internet.

“False information, such as news about an accident that never happened, can be shared widely on social media after it is posted”, the government said in a post on its own website. “Be aware of sources of information and confirm whether reports are reliable.”

An editorial in Thursday’s Asahi newspaper said: “Circulating false rumours designed to fuel anxiety at a time when people are uneasy after a major earthquake is a despicable act that cannot be overlooked.

“What is disturbing is the proliferation of social media posts aimed at promoting discrimination and prejudice against foreign residents of Japan.

“Many of these hate posts warned against crimes by members of a specific ethnic group, such as ethnic Koreans living in Japan”, it said. “Others claimed that damage caused by the earthquake to important cultural assets ‘may have been done by foreigners’.”

The rumours “spread like wildfire”, the paper said, as the anonymity of the web made it difficult to trace the perpetrators, adding that similar rumours started after the March 2011 earthquakes in Tohoku and again in Kumamoto Prefecture in April 2016.

“We find it infuriating that many such outrageous acts were committed again after the earthquake in Osaka, which has a large population of foreign residents”, the Asahi declared.

Others said the rumours echo unsubstantiated reports following the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

During that disaster, as many as 10,000 foreigners – mainly Koreans but also about 700 Chinese – were killed by bands of vigilantes who believed claims that foreigners were taking advantage of the situation to commit robberies and arson and were carrying bombs. Koreans were also accused of poisoning wells.

Makoto Watanabe, a senior lecturer in communications at Hokkaido Bunkyo University, said the swift reaction of Osaka authorities was “correct and appropriate”, but urged the government to make laws against hate speech.

“These sorts of comments are obviously deeply regrettable, but thankfully they come from only a very small section of Japanese society”, he told the South China Morning Post.

“These are ‘net uoyoku’, or internet right-wingers, who are brainwashed because they only ever speak to people who think like themselves and live in that little bubble.

“As soon as they actually meet a foreigner they change their opinions, but they tend to keep to the same small circle of like-minded people.

“And if you look at their posts or the web pages they follow then you will see that they still repeat the claims of 1923 that the Koreans were rioting or poisoning the wells.

“The Diet has passed legislation on hate speech and this is the ideal occasion to apply it. The national government must show that it takes human rights seriously and prosecute anyone who spreads false rumours based purely on a person’s nationality or race.”