Japan: Mixi and Anonymity

Mixi is Japan's most popular social networking service by a longshot, beating out its competition with over ten million users and taking the lion's share of the local SNS market. So big is Mixi that it even plans to take on the Chinese market, not that its founder Kenji Kasahara really needs to.

But the future may not be so bright for Mixi. After having found itself in hot water a few months ago for a change in its terms of use agreement, it now faces a new competitor, with Facebook having been localized by volunteers into Japanese. Mixi and Facebook are both social networking services, but they are very different in the way that their users handle identity: whereas the Mixi mode is obfuscation (fake photos, fake registered names, etc.), in Facebook users generally use their real identity.

Mixi user profile pictures
Mixi user profile photos (usernames removed)

Blogger mechag takes up the theme of Mixi and anonymity. In a post entitled “The real enemy that broke the culture of real names in Mixi“, the blogger comments on the new Japanese version of Facebook:

Facebookが本格的に日本でサービスを開始するらしい。実名を強く推進していくそうだ。実際そうなるかはともかくとして、実名でのSNSというのは当然あっていいと思う。リアルで普通に生活している場合と同様に、身元を明らかにし、仕事、近所付き合い、親戚付き合い、地域や趣味レベルのコミュニケーション手段として、SNSは便利なツールだと思う。

Apparently Facebook is going to fully launch their service in Japan. I heard that they are heavily promoting [the use of] real names. Putting aside whether this will actually happen or not, I think it is of course a good thing for there to be SNS that use real names. As a means of communication at the level of work, neighborhood associations, family associations, region and interests, one that makes clear [a person's] identity just as is in everyday life, SNS are a useful tool.

もちろんそういうSNSでは、我々が現実の世界で用いているような様々な防衛手段、嘘をつき、隠し事をし、建前で付き合う、というスタイルが求められるだろう。他人を無制限に信頼することは出来ないし、他の友人に知られたくない人間関係もある。

Of course in these SNS, there is a demand for styles [of communication] such as telling lies, hiding secrets, and maintaining a public stance, various defensive measures of the kind that we all use in real life. It's impossible to put absolute trust in a stranger, and there are human relationships that [people] do not want other friends of theirs to know about.

そういうものをきちんと保護できる機能をもつSNSは電話や郵便などと同様に本当の意味での社会のインフラとなるだろう。逆に言えば「良心」で成り立っているコミュニケーションツールというのはインフラにはなれない。悪意まで包含して初めてインフラとして機能する。

SNS with the functionality to properly protect this kind of [information] become society's infrastructure in the true sense of the term, like telephone and the postal service. Or to put it conversely, communication tools that rely on “conscience” are not capable of acting as this infrastructure. It is only once ill intentions are taken into account that [these tools] begin to function as an infrastructure.

mixiの場合、やっと最近フレンドをグループ化して公開できる日記を区分けできるようになったようだが、「良心」の幻想に引きずられるあまり遅きに失した感がある。日記の暴露が社会問題化した時点で「良心」から卒業できなかったために、mixiの実名文化は壊れてしまった。悪意に対してあまりにも無邪気に無防備だった。以前から警告は発せられていたのに「人の良心を疑うのか」「我々は人の良心を信じる」とほとんどカルトのような狂信でmixi教の信者達は警告をことごとく拒絶していた。

In the case of mixi, it has recently finally become possible to group your friends and section your diary into a part that can be made public, but I have the feeling that people have already been seduced too much by the illusion of “conscience”, and that this move may be too late. At just the point in time when diary disclosure had become a social problem, mixi was not able to graduate from [a sense of] “conscience”, and for this reason the culture of real names in mixi broke completely. They were far too naive and defenseless against ill intentions. Even though warnings had previously been issued, believers in the mixi religion, who like a cult [said things like] “do you question people's conscience?” and “we have faith in people's conscience”, fanatically denied the warnings altogether.

Mechag then goes on to argue that if real names are endorsed, the system should not be set “open to everybody” by default. The entry continues:

現実の世界で自分の交友関係のリストを誰にでも見えるように首から提げている人はいない。それじゃ小学生の名札だ。いや最近は小学生でさえ名前や学校名が書かれた名札を付けているのは危険だという議論になっている。

In the real world, nobody shows the list of all their associations so that everybody can see them. That's like an elementary school name tag. Actually nowadays even in elementary schools there are those who argue that it is dangerous to attach a name tag with the students name and name of the school on it.

その中の活動も、現実の世界のそれがそうであるように、誰が見るともわからないようなところに本音や自分の思想・信条など決して書かない。赤の他人はもちろん友人にも今の自分の悩みをさらけ出すなど以ての外だ。そういうものはごく親しい限られた親友や家族にのみ公開する。

In activities as well, nobody writes down things like their intentions, and their own thoughts and beliefs, in a place where it is not even clear who will see them. It is of course absurd that [a person] would lay bear their worries to even their own friends, let alone to perfect strangers. These are the kinds of things that people only publicize to a very limited intimate [group] of close friends and family.

実名による責任あるSNSというのはこういうものを言うのであって、善意と良心の幻想に頼ったものではない。究極のコミュニケーションツールというのは「いかにコミュニケーションを制限するか」という点に注力して設計されたツールだと思う。

SNS that demand responsibility through the use of real names state these kinds of points, and do not rely on the illusion of good intentions and conscience. The ultimate communication tool, I think, is a tool that is designed with attention focused on the issue of “how much is the communication restricted”.

もちろん匿名のSNSはあっていい。上述のような本当の意味で責任のある実名SNSでは対応しきれない人間の側面が沢山あるだろう。やたら「実名」によるコミュニケーションを賛美する人が多いけれど、それは実名に幻想を抱いているのだと思う。まるで恋愛や結婚をしたことのない少女が恋愛にあこがれるようなものだ。

It is of course good that there are anonymous SNS. I suppose that there must be many aspects of human beings that cannot be dealt with in an SNS that uses real names [to assure] responsibility in the true sense outlined above. There are many people who glorify communication based on “real names”, but doing that I think is just harboring an illusion about real names. It's just like young girls who yearn for love even though they have no experience of love or marriage.

「見ず知らずの人に本音をぶちまけたい」という不条理な願望、ある意味破滅願望に近いと思う、をもつのが人間なのだ。自殺したい、犯罪を犯したい、そういう人間の負の側面を否定してはならない。光と影、善と悪、愛と憎悪、理論と感情、博愛と利己、ネットワークは最終的に人間のすべての思考活動の受け皿になるツールでなければならない。実名での発言がきちんと社会的に保護されなければ、いくら呼びかけたところで実名は普及しないだろう。

The absurd desire to “confess one's real intention to a complete stranger” is in some sense a desire for destruction — this is the way human beings think. The negative aspects of the kind of human beings who want to commit suicide, who want to commit crimes, cannot be denied. Light and dark, good and bad, theory and emotion, charity and self-interest, networks must ultimately become tools to act as a receptacle for all human thoughts and actions. If expression using real names is not socially protected in a proper way, then it doesn't matter how much one has appealed, [the popularity] of real names will not spread.

The entry finishes with a parallel to the manga of Ishinomori Shotaro, creator of Android Kikaider:

石ノ森章太郎のマンガ「人造人間キカイダー」の主人公ジローは不完全な良心回路(ジェミニ)を持つロボットで、その不完全さゆえに作中で悩み、苦しみまくるのだが、長い戦いの末にジローが最後に手にしたのは完全な良心回路ではなく悪の心(服従回路)だった。正義と悪、2つの相反する回路のせめぎ合いによって、優しさだけでなく強さを身につけ、「これで僕は人間と同じになった」といっていずこかへ去っていく。

The main character in the manga “Android Kikaider” by Ishinomori Shotaro, Jiro, was a robot with an incomplete conscience circuit (Gemini), and as a result of this incompleteness he was full of worries and anguish. At the end of a long battle, Jiro ended up not with the perfect conscience circuit, but with an evil mind (obedience circuit). Through a conflict between the two circuits of justice and evil, he acquires not only kindness, but also strength, declaring as he leaves that: “With this, I have become the same as a human.”

今の世相はネットに完全な良心回路を求めてさまよっているジローに似ている。そんなものは手に入らないし、もし手に入れたとしても幸せにはならないだろう。それでは人間の心の半分しかサポートできないからだ。

The current social condition resembles Jiro wandering in search of a perfect conscience circuit. Such a thing is not obtainable, and even if it were, I doubt that it would make [a person] happy. Because it would only be able to support one half of the human heart.

Thanks to Taku Nakajima for the suggestion to translate this blog post.

1 comment

  • lehilahytsyresy

    The big difference between Facebook and Mixi is that Facebook allows new users to register freely on their own, whereas Mixi requires that a new user be invited by an insider in order to be eligible for registration.

    That difference might have been one of the causes of the phenomenon the author is writing about.

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