2channel Fights Police Pressure, So-Called “Viral Marketers”

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    The future of the giant message board 2channel’s current influence on the Japanese Internet was thrown into question over the past two days as its founder Hiroyuki was interviewed by federal police and its current, anonymous operators took steps to eliminate the “stealth marketers” which propagate 2channel threads to the larger world.

    In 2011, a campaign by 2channel posters against Fuji Television for its perceived pro-Korean bias intensified, culminating in a large protest outside Fuji TV headquarters on August 21. No mainstream Japanese news organization reported on the protest, but in a mysterious coincidence, on August 24 Fuji TV aired a special report on a scary underground website called 2channel used for selling illegal drugs. Their evidence for the drug trade was a single post from 2010 that used code words to refer to MDMA, marijuana, and cocaine.

    Police, frightened by Fuji’s report, launched an investigation into 2channel, which seems to have become quite serious in recent days. Today, the newsweekly Shuukan Asahi reported that items have been seized from 2channel-related businesses and that founder Hiroyuki Nishimura, who no longer has any ties to 2channel, was called in for questioning. Police hoped to extract from Hiroyuki the real names and locations of the website’s anonymous moderators. According to the magazine, a publication of the Asahi Shinbun newspaper, investigators are calling 2ch a “hotbed of crime” because moderators did not delete the single post from 2010. (Over 1,800,000 posts are made on 2channel every day.) It is not yet clear whether the moderators will be arrested or if these police scare tactics will affect 2channel’s day-to-day operations, despite Shuukan Asahi calling the probe an “extermination mission”.

    In related news, at midnight on January 9, 2channel’s anonymous moderators set up a new forum with special copyright restrictions. 2channel is used as a source by hundreds of blogs, which reprint news articles and the posts of 2channel users without any acknowledgement of copyright. Remarkably, in a country where copyright is taken very seriously, these outlaw blogs are not only quite popular but have acquired corporate sponsorship and ad dollars that 2channel itself has never been able to get, which makes the message board’s users quite mad.

    Since 2004, when publishers ran into serious trouble securing copyright permissions from the anonymous posters on the Densha Otoko threads, copyright on posts has been owned by 2channel. Because 2channel’s legal operations were moved to Singapore in order to avoid libel suits from angry Japanese celebrities, it now lacks the means to easily file lawsuits itself. That doesn’t change the fact that copying people’s posts violates copyright. These blogs exist in a legal gray area, but that doesn’t stop them from getting corporate sponsors. The gaming blog Hachimaki, which is often the source of breaking news on Kotaku and other American blogs, is quietly funded by Sony and Kadokawa Shoten. The anime blog Yaraon is affiliated with the anime production house SHAFT, the producers of Hidamari Sketch among other popular shows. Paranoid 2channel users accuse these affiliate blogs of posting articles to 2channel itself in order to generate fake articles and make money for their corporate masters, a much speculated-on activity called “stealth marketing”, i.e. viral marketing.

    In order to address the incessant arguments over viral marketing, moderators opened a new board, “Breaking News (Non-Commercial)“, which explicitly forbids reprinting, and therefore would not be profitable for Japan’s corporate overlords. Of course, it remains to be seen whether affiliate blogs will actually follow these rules. They currently seem to be limiting themselves to mocking non-commercial activists and boasting about the continued use of the old forum, which has in fact drastically fallen off.

    Both of these stories are likely to drastically affect how news reaches the English-speaking Internet from Japan in the years to come.

    Contributor Bio: Avery teaches English somewhere near Takeo. When he is not translating things, he is probably visiting haikyo or researching weird footnotes in Japanese history. He can be reached on Twitter at @ahm.

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