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Japan: Reflections on the Akiba Massacre (Part 2)

In the last post, I summarized some of the many blog conversations about social background to the massacre in Tokyo's Akihabara district on June 8th. Another aspect of the tragedy sparking many discussions was the way the incident was covered through the citizen media: through blogs, but also through Twitter [ja], and most controversially through the use of streaming video [ja]. As blogger Akihito Kobayashi (小林啓倫) pointed out [ja], while this was not the first case in Japan where a news story broke first through these new forms of media, it was a very clear sign that times are changing. Even NHK, Japan's national broadcaster, was apparently using pictures off the Internet taken with mobile phone cameras by people who just happened to be on the scene.

Snapshot from streaming video by user Lyphard
Snapshot from streaming video by user Lyphard. No record of the actual stream has been found.

Random knife murders like the one in Akihabara may not be so novel in Japan [ja], but on-the-spot citizen media is still fairly new. The combination of the two, though, didn't go over very well with the public. An article in J-CAST [ja] describes the backlash in weekly magazines against the paparazzi-like picture-taking of curious onlookers snapping shots of bleeding victims. An online survey by Livedoor [ja] quoted in the article indicated that two-thirds of respondents thought that picture-taking at the scene was immoral.

More shocking than the picture taking to some was the use of streaming video. Live feeds by two users of Ustream in particular, lyphard and kenan (on Twitter at @lyphard and @kenan_), drew thousands of viewers before going down. At fragments of love on June 9th, blogger sillat described their experience watching Twitter feeds and Ustream streaming video:

日曜日だったので午後に布団を抜け出して、いつものようにMacの電源を付けてtwitterのtimelineを眺めていたら、なにか騒々しい。流れを見てると、どうやら秋葉原で大変な事件が起きたとか、歩行者天国が封鎖されたとか、物騒な話である。それと同時にustがどうのこうのというのも流れてきた。それが、当日偶然現地に居合わせた@kenan_と@Lyphardによるustream配信。@kenan_のアカウントはviewerが3000人くらいになってダウンした(おそらく原因はIRCチャットの負荷)らしいから見れなかったんだけど、@Lyphardが配信を始めてからは私も見ていた。まあそれもviewerが爆発的に増えてこっちもブラウザがフリーズして、そのあたりで配信は終わったんだけども、それからしばらくtimelineとNHKに張り付いて情報が錯綜していったり確定されたりする様子を眺めてるなどしてた。

It was Sunday, so I got out of my futon in the afternoon, and when I turned on my Mac and had a look at the Twitter timeline as I always do, there was chaos. I looked at the stream of messages, and there were disturbing conversations about a terrible incident that had happened in Akihabara, and about the pedestrian mall having been closed. And then at the same time, there was something being streamed on ust [Ustream]. What it was was a Ustream broadcast by @kenan_ and @Lyphard who just happened to have been on the scene when the whole thing happened. When the number of viewers at @kenan_'s account reached around 3000, it apparently went down (the cause was probably the load from the IRC chat), so I didn't get to see it, but I did see @Lyphard's live footage right from the beginning. Well, the viewers on that one also grew explosively, and my browser froze, so at that point the stream ended, but I did continue for a while to watch information coming in from the [Twitter] timeline and from NHK as the news became more complicated, and then more clear.

Later in the same post, sillat observes:

私たちは情報をなにがしかのメディアから受け取っていて、特に新聞・ラジオ・テレビ、そういうマスメディアと呼ばれるものから受け取ってることが多かった。特定少数から不特定多数への情報伝達。でもインターネットが発展していくにつれて、不特定多数からの情報伝達がやりやすくなった。Web2.0といわれてるアレ。

We receive our news from certain media, particularly newspapers, radio and TV; we have often received information from these so-called mass media. Information transmission from a specific minority to a general majority. But with the development of the Internet, it has become easier for the general majority to transmit information. That's what they refer to as Web 2.0.

kenan wrote at their blog “recently” on June 8th:

みんなも知ってると思う今日の秋葉原の事件をUstreamを使って映像配信してた。
身内だけで見てたけど2chに張られたらしく視聴者が2000人を超えた当りでサーバーとマシンの負荷の限界が来て配信終了。

I think everybody has heard about this already, but the incident in Akihabara today was broadcast live on Ustream.
It was only seen internally, but apparently it was posted at 2channel and when the number of viewers topped 2000, the load went over the limit of the server and machine and the streaming stopped.

実際、すぐ隣で蘇生術ほどこされてる重傷の人とか、止血ようの布とか散らばってて生々しかった。
これはただの報道ごっこであり、そんなの撮るんじゃない。不謹慎だ。とか思われるだろうし、警官の人にも「人の不幸を撮って楽しいか?」とか言われました。

It was very vivid, with people right next [to the camera] so badly wounded that they were receiving resuscitation, and cloths used to stop the bleeding scattered all about.
This was nothing but a make-believe broadcast, it shouldn't have been taken. It was imprudent. That's what I guess they thought of it, because I was asked by the police: “Do you enjoy shooting videos of people's unhappiness?”

In another post, kenan describes the scene at the moment when he shot the video, which started at 13:09:33 on June 8th:

この時点で警察、消防、救急車などはかなり整備されていた。
交差点付近は閉鎖。被害者にはビニールシート等で野次馬からの視界保護。
撮影範囲は新しいSofmap秋葉の交差点。
撮影方向は交差点のSofmapから反対側方面へ向けて配信、この時点で警察車両が交差点を囲い始め現場検証などが始まる。

At that moment, the police, firefighters and ambulances were getting heavily organized.
The area around the intersection was closed off. Plastic sheets were used to hide the victims from the view of curious onlookers.
The intersection with the new Sofmap Akiba was within the range of view of the camera.
The camera was pointed from the Sofmap intersection in the direction of the opposite side, and at that moment the police cars had started surrounding the intersection and an on-the-site investigation was starting.

Blogger hageatama provides some more background and offers a defense for kenan's shooting the streaming video:

元々、IRCの#Twitterに常駐している面子は”高円寺クラスタ”と称される集団を中心に、IRCによる文字実況とWEBカメラによる映像実況が組み合わされたWEBサービス”Ustream”の利用率が非常に高くなっています。昨夜も夜明けまで高円寺の@retlet宅内にぐだぐだ集まって、初代To Heartを実況しながらプレイする、等というアホな事をやっていまして、Ustreamの利用自体は日常茶飯事なわけです。

From the start, the rate of use of the web service “Ustream”, which combines live character-based interaction through IRC with live video through Web camera, has come to be very high, centering on a group called the “Koenji cluster” stationed permanently in the #Twitter IRC room. From last night until daybreak, [we] had gathered at @retlet's house in Koenji, and were doing stupid things like broadcasting while playing the first generation of To Heart. The use of Ustream itself is something that happens every day.

さらに、オタクとPCの街である秋葉原とTwitter利用者の親和性は異常に高く、週末どころか平日ですら夕方以降にリナカフェに行けば誰かいるという状況があります。

Also, the affinity between the otaku and PC town of Akihabara and Twitter users is very high. If you go to Linux Cafe there's always someone there, not only on the weekend but on weekday evenings as well.

つまり一般の人には理解しにくいであろう個人による事件の実況中継も、この2つの条件が組み合わさることで、秋葉原の現場で @kenan_ がUstream配信を始めた行動自体は、我々にとって特別な事でも何でも無いわけです。

In other words, the live broadcast of the actions of an individual, which I suppose is difficult for ordinary people to understand, resulted from the combination of the two conditions above, and the action itself of @kenan_ transmitting live Ustream footage on location in Akihabara is nothing out of the ordinary for us.

The other Ustream user who shot footage live at the scene, lyphard, wrote at their blog gunnyori:

私はあの場でustで中継しました。それはついさっきまでリナカフェの状況を中継していたのと何ら変わらない。ただ、その場での出来事を、あの場の空気を中継したかったからした。ただそれだけでした。

I broadcast through ust [Ustream] what was happening on the spot. There was nothing different between doing that and what I had been doing just up until that point, broadcasting the situation at Linux Cafe. The reason [that I did it] was just that I wanted to broadcast what was happening at the scene, the atmosphere at the scene. But that was it.

野次馬根性がなかったとは言い切れません。ustの閲覧者が増えていき数百人を超えた辺りである種の高揚感があったのも認めます。

I can't say that I didn't feel the curiosity of the onlooker. I admit that there was a kind of excitement at the point when the number of viewers watching the ust [Ustream] increased and topped one hundred people.

そんな私は不謹慎なのでしょうか?

Was what I did inappropriate?

While some were debating the legality [ja] of what kenan and lyphard did at Hatena Question, most recognized the significance of what had happened. Hatena blogger YUSIZO remarked [ja]:

ただ今回の事件がこのような形で一般人によって「報道」された事については、凄く重要な事だと思います。善悪は置いておいて。

Putting aside the right and wrong of it, the form of “reporting” by average citizens that took place in this case was extremely important, I think.

こういう「私的な報道」はこの方がやらなくてもいずれ誰かがやったと思いますし、これから数日、動画や携帯写メールで色んな人が現場の惨状を無配慮に垂れ流し、多くの人が自分なりの意見をのべるでしょう。

Even if he hadn't done this “personal reporting” , I think someone else would have anyway, and within a few days many different people would have spilled the details about the disastrous scene through videos and pictures from mobile phones, and I guess that many people would have stated their own views.

技術が進歩し、誰もが気軽に写真と動画をネット上に流せるようになった以上、個人レベルで報道が行われる事は避けられないと思います。

Technology is advancing, and now that anybody can easily upload their pictures and videos onto the Internet, this kind of reporting that happens at the level of the individual is unavoidable.

Many questioned what was happening to the sense of what is “public” (公共性). Blogger raurublock writes about the restraints put on mass media by their sponsors, arguing that what happened in this case demonstrates that media has changed fundamentally:

ところが今回の件を見てもわかるように、そういうマスコミの実質的な独占は既に崩れたわけですよ。これからは、これまで嵌っていたゆるゆるの箍すらなくなり、これまで皆あまり考えずに済んでいた「公共性とは何か」とか言う問題に直面せざるを得なくなる、ということでもあります。

As you will understand if you think about the current incident, the essential monopoly of this kind of mass media has collapsed. From here on in, the weak restraint that had applied [to media] up until now will begin to disappear, and we will have no choice but to face the question of “what is public”, something that up until now we haven't had to think about much.

Many bloggers and commentators wrote about this disappearing boundary between the curious onlooker and the professional reporter. An article by journalist and blogger Fujishiro Hiroyuki Fujishiro [藤代裕之] [ja] suggests that in an age when everybody can create media, the question of what kind of reporting is “right” becomes meaningless. In an article at CNET, web commentator, former journalist and author Sasaki Toshinao Sasaki [佐々木俊尚] (see this translated interview) remarks that traditional journalists have up until now been protected from the criticism that was targeted at Ustream users in this case by an illusion. He offers an interesting example of what happens to journalists when this illusion is gone:

知人の大手新聞記者はある夜、当直勤務の途中で火事現場に取材に駆り出された。うっかり会社にカメラを置き忘れていて、手元にある撮影機器はケータイしかない。しかたなくケータイで火事場を撮影していたところ、付近にいた警察官や消防隊員から何度となく「そんな不謹慎なことはやめなさい」とたしなめられた。彼はそのたびに「すみません、新聞社なんです」と説明せざるを得なかったのだという。

An acquaintance of mine who is a reporter for a mainstream paper was sent one night in the middle of his shift to cover the scene of a fire. He forgot his camera at the office, and the only thing that he had on hand that he could shoot with was his mobile phone. With no other choice, he took footage of the scene of the fire with [the camera in] his mobile phone. Police and firefighters in the area told him off many times and asked him to stop, saying: “what you're doing is shameless”. He had no choice on that occasion but to apologize to them, explaining: “I'm sorry, I'm from the newspaper company”.

But how far can this new kind of citizen media go? Are there limits? Blogger complexequality offers a sobering rhetorical question:

わかりにくければ、たとえばこういう思考実験をしてみればいいだろう。犯人は今回携帯のライフログを用いていた。多くの人が、そのライフログを見ている。「報道」を通して。では、もし犯人がワイヤレスのカメラを首からぶら下げて、連行されるその瞬間まで、USTREAMで自らの眼前に繰り広げられる光景をストリーミングしていたならばどうだろう。われわれはそれを見るのだろうか?

If it is hard to see this, try imagining the following thought experiment. The offender is writing a lifelog on his cell phone this time. Many people are looking at that lifelog. Through “reports”. So now, what if the offender had suspended a wireless camera from his neck, and had streamed the entire scene that unfolded before his eyes, right up to when he was taken in by police, on USTREAM? Would we all have watched that?

Note to regular readers: I've switched to using the western-style “<FIRST NAME> <LAST NAME>” rather than the Japanese-style “<LAST NAME> <FIRST NAME>”. I'll eventually go over all my earlier posts and make corrections.

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