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Japan: Mainichi's Wikipedia Slip-up

Ignoring the fact that Wikipedia timestamps are in GMT and not JST (Japan Standard Time), on the 18th of November the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun published an article entitled, “Attack on the former vice-Director's home: crime announced on the Internet six hours earlier… hinting at the crime?” (元次官宅襲撃:事件6時間前にネット書き込み…犯行示唆) where a Wikipedia contributor (“Popons”) was erroneously identified [en] as involved in the attempted murder [en] of Yasuko Yoshihara, wife of former vice health minister Kenji Yoshihara, following on the murders of former vice health minister Takehiko Yamaguchi and his wife Michiko.

Mainichi's mistake, however, was promptly identified by 2-channelers:

758 :無党派さん:2008/11/19(水) 02:52:53 ID:lqKwKi4w
 >>754
 wikipedia:社会保険庁長官 の変更履歴   (毎日はこれを見て誤報に至る)
 てか、これ大誤報だろ。この変更時間ってGMTのはずだから、
 実際は午後9時27分じゃないのか。

758: >> to commenter 754
Wikipedia: Edit Records of Director General of the Public Insurance Agency (Mainichi looked at this and made a mistaken report)
This is a huge mistake. The timestamp must be in GMT, so wasn't the edit then in fact made at 9.27 p.m. [Japan time]?

The news immediately roused reaction among some bloggers. One of them, Hiroyuki Fujishiro [藤代裕之] at Gatonews, stressing how factually incorrect news was taken to be correct by other media, remarked on the newspaper's responsibility as author of the original report:

誤報やネットへのリテラシー不足よりも問題なのはその取材手法です。すでに消されてウェブ魚拓に残っている毎日の記事元次官宅襲撃:事件6時間前にネット書き込み…犯行示唆に『アクセスの記録などから書き込みがなされたパソコンが特定できるとみられ、捜査本部は慎重に調べている』という文面があります。これは、毎日報道「ネットに犯行示唆」は誤報という産経新聞の記事の『書き込みの内容は、参考情報として、捜査当局にも伝えていたという』で明らかなように、記者がウィキペディアの書き込みを見つけて警察に伝えて記事にしたものです。

The problem is not the incorrect report or the ignorance of Internet conventions, but the way that information was collected. In the article “Attack on the former vice-Director's home: crime announced on the Internet six hours earlier… hinting at the crime?” [jp], already taken down but still available on Web Gyotaku (ウェブ魚拓), they report that: “Thanks to the track records, the pc used to edit [the Wikipedia page] can be identified. The investigation headquarters is carefully looking into the case”. And the news of “hints about crime on the Internet” was then mistaken by Sankei Shimbun and reported as “sources from the Investigation Agency said that contents of the edit will be used as a reference”, as if the journalist who found the edit on Wikipedia had reported it to the police.

[…]

あいまいな記事の書き方はマスメディアにも警察にもメリットがあります。マスメディアは「捜査本部は調べている」とまるで情報主体が警察にあるように書くことで責任を回避できますし、警察は情報の非対称を利用して記者をコントロールすることが出来ます。

Both the police and the mass media are responsible for this ambiguous article. The mass media avoid any responsibility, reporting that “the investigation headquarters is investigating”, and making the Police the author of that information. At the same time, the police, by the principles of information asymmetry, can control the journalist.


Right after publication of the article, TV shows seized the opportunity to report news about an Internet user being involved in a crime, in doing so spreading incorrect news.

The next day, Mainichi published few lines where they apologized [jp] “for reporting that the edit on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia was a pre-announcement of the crime while, instead, the edit time was p.m., after the crime had already been committed, and not before.” However this attracted even more criticism by many bloggers, who harshly blamed the newspaper, because in the apology there is no mention to Popons, the editor who was irresponsibly accused of being directly involved in the stabbing, as id: Britty [ja], for example, pointed out:

ウェブ魚拓を見ると、その「犯行予告」なるものを投稿した投稿者のログイン名が掲載されている。上記のお詫び記事ではそのことについては言及がない。時刻表記を取り違えたことだけを「お詫びして訂正」している。ほんとうに詫びるべきは、不用意に特定投稿者の名前を掲載したこと、そのことでその方に迷惑をかけたことなのではないであろうか。

If you search for “advance notice of crime” [犯行予告] on Web Gyotaku (ウェブ魚拓), you will see that the id of the contributor who made the edit was published in the article. However, in Mainichi's apology, there is no mention of that. The apology only consists of a correction of the mistaken news report. But what they should apologize for is the careless publication of the contributor's personal identity. After all, haven't they caused that person problems [in what they did]?

While the few lines by Mainichi seemed shallow to many [jp], at his personal page, the Wikipedia user Popons expressed his heartfelt apologies for what happened:

私の書き込みが社会保険庁長官の件で、ご遺族の方々、捜査関係者の方々にたいへんなご迷惑をおかけしましたことを反省いたしております。先ほどのニュースで知りました。申し訳ございませんでした。大変申し訳ございませんでした。特にご遺族の方々、申し訳ございませんでした。私は北陸在住でプロバイダもそちらのものです。 ただいま、地元警察のほうへ、連絡し、謝罪の電話をいたしました。申し訳ございませんでした。–Popons 2008年11月18日 (火) 21:35 (UTC)

With regards to the page “Director General of the Social Insurance Agency” which I edited, I am very sorry to have caused trouble to the victim's family and to all the people involved in the investigation. I heard [about the misunderstanding] from the TV news a while ago and I do apologize. I have no words to express how sorry I am, in particular for her relatives. I live in the North and the [Internet service] provider I used is [located] here as well. Right now I contacted the local police station and I called them to apologize. I am very sorry.

4 comments

  • How terrible, and ignorant. He’s not the one who should be apologizing, Mainichi-shimbun should its apology to the relatives, the police, and him like any respectable newspaper should. Alas.

  • […] has triggered its fair share of debate recently, with many criticizing the mainstream press for its slip-ups and what some perceive as an attitude problem. Monthly and weekly magazines, meanwhile, are one by […]

  • […] GV posts on the WaiWai controversy include a translation of an article by a Japanese resident in Ecuador at a blog entitled Nanmei (南瞑), and an article by blogger Michi Kaifu (海部美知), who contends that to women, WaiWai was sexual harassment. Blogger polimediauk, meanwhile, reacted to Mainichi's apology about the WaiWai articles, complaining about the fact that foreign and Japanese staff have been treated differently in the affair. Mainichi was later embroiled in a separate scandal revolving on a slip-up in which the newspaper erroneously identified a Wikipedia editor as involved in an attempted murder. […]

  • […] Pos GV tentang kontroversi WaiWai meliputi terjemahan sebuah artikel oleh seorang warga Jepang yang tinggal di Ekuador pada sebuah blog berjudul Nanmei (南瞑), dan sebuah artikel oleh blogger Michi Kaifu (海部美知), yang berpendapat bahwa bagi para wanita, WaiWai merupakan pelecehan seksual. Sementara itu, blogger polimediauk, bereaksi terhadap permintaan maaf Mainichi tentang artikel WaiWai, mengeluh tentang kenyataan bahwa staf asing dan staf Jepang telah diperlakukan secara berbeda dalam urusan tersebut. Mainichi kemudian terlibat dalam sebuah skandal terpisah seputar sebuah kesalahan surat kabar tersebut secara keliru menyangka seorang editor Wikipedia terlibat dalam sebuah percobaa…. […]

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