Japan’s most popular forum about anything and everything, 2ch might get shut down due to the legal woes of its owner. For those of you outside of Japan, 2ch is a staple of the Japanese internet where users can post anything about anything. Unlike most Western forums, 2ch thrives on the anonymity of its users (who rarely claim a username or identity and prefer to be called the equivalent of “anonymous coward”).
Topics vary widely and cover both mainstream and underground topics with the latter being more popular due to 2ch’s anonymous nature. It’s a cultural phenomenon here in Japan but also a source of legal woes.
The main problem stems from 2ch’s refusal to cooperate with authorities to speedily remove offensive content. Such content ranges from libel, posting of privacy information (the home address of criminal suspects, stalker victims, insider info), to criminals announcing their intent to commit a crime. Posters on the site are notoriously vicious. Also due to the fact that all content is on straight text against a design that hasn’t changed much since the 90s, it’s spawned a whole new genre of Japanese ASCII art.
It’s even spawned a runaway smash hit drama series chronicling a love story between a hardcore geek and beautiful girl that supposedly started with the geek asking for love advice on 2ch (the truth of this is now disputed).
In any case, Nishimura Hiroyuki (the owner of 2ch) not only refused requests to remove content as required by Japanese law, he has showed contempt for court repeatedly by not showing up or paying court awarded compensation to the victims involved. He is estimated to earn upwards of a million dollars from advertising revenues and related ventures.
Today, courts have finally responded after a long period of inaction and have frozen his assets. Nishimura is thought to have moved the bulk of his assets abroad and has cloaked his wealth with a variety of means to escape such confiscation. 2ch has responded to the courts by taunting authorities with an “assets frozen” sign on their front page.
This issue is also of great interest to freedom of speech advocates because it will serve as a precedent on the extent that freedom of speech is protected online and how much companies will have to shoulder responsibility for content posted by anonymous users.