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The Ten Thousand Dollar Retweet

SNA (Tokyo) — Yasumi Iwakami says he had no inkling that anything was amiss until it arrived in the mail—he was sued for defamation by none other than Toru Hashimoto, the former governor and mayor of Osaka, and founder of the Japan Innovation Party. His surprise grew deeper as he read that he was being charged with merely sending a retweet from his Twitter account, and that the retweet in question had already been deleted. Hashimoto was demanding about US$10,000 in damages.

The original tweet sent on October 28 of last year apparently accused Hashimoto of being responsible for working a public employee to death when he was serving as mayor of Osaka. The next day, Iwakami retweeted the tweet (which had been posted by an entirely unrelated individual) without offering additional comment. Sometime later, Iwakami deleted his retweet.

The extremely articulate Toru Hashimoto raised no voice of protest, made no demand, nor offered any public counterarguments. The whole matter seemed to pass quietly. Then, out of the blue, Hashimoto launched his defamation lawsuit—not against the individual who made the accusation against him—but against the prominent independent journalist who had simply retweeted it for a time.

Hashimoto is not known to have sued anybody else over the matter, including people other than Iwakami who retweeted the very same tweet.

Kazuyuki Azusawa, one of Iwakami’s defense lawyers, states, “Mr. Iwakami runs IWJ Independent Web Journal, a media organization supported by ordinary citizens who are dissatisfied with the major media. I believe that is why he was singled out.”

Iwakami argues that his case has both national and international ramifications because Hashimoto’s lawsuit goes against the entire spirit and purpose of social media, which is a place for debate and the presentation of new information. If Hashimoto felt there was something wrong with the original tweet, his obvious recourse was to present a counterargument based on a different set of facts, not to sue someone who simply retweeted it.

Indeed, Toru Hashimoto is one of the most proactive debaters in the nation and is known for his sharp verbal attacks on those he disapproves of. In fact, a lawmaker of the Japan Innovation Party, Hodaka Maruyama, nearly resigned from the party recently over Twitter attacks launched against him by Hashimoto himself.

In their Statement of Petition calling for the case to be heard in Tokyo rather than Osaka (to save Iwakami substantial travel expenses), his legal team writes, “If the defendant’s retweeting should constitute an act of defamation, SNS (Social Networking Service) societies all around the world might collapse.”

Yasumi Iwakami’s IWJ Independent Web Journal is one of the largest and most successful internet-based citizen’s media operations in Japan.

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