Today during lunch with nothing better to do I broke out my keitai (cellphone) to check the news, and stumbled on a news article about a foolish chap who has been charged with taking secret film of more than 2000 women in public toilet facilities throughout Osaka. Apparently he was caught after getting involved in an incident during one of his intrepid attempts to install a digital camera in a women’s toilet, and an English translation of the key points of the article is available here. Apparently he made 4.5 million yen (about 45,000 US$) over 2 years selling this stuff on the internet. Who knew this kind of stuff was so popular?

On my keitai the news article was uploaded (to yahoo’s cellphone internet site) at 8:52 am. I read it at midday, i.e. 3 hours later. At that time there were already 952 comments, and more comments were being added as I read it at a rate of about 1 per minute. Not only were there 952 comments, but each comment had a (widely used) “I agree” or “I disagree” button, and being ranked in order on my phone I could see that by that time the most popular had about 250 “agrees.” This comment simply said “Treat it as a serious crime.” As I write this there are now 1585 comments, and the top trending one (the same comment) has 5,603 “agree” and 358 “disagree” votes. The next couple of comments, in order, are:

  • Let’s publish photos of his face and home: 1519 agree, 89 disagree
  • 2000 people? Because he’ll undoubtedly do it again, give him death… and catch the people who bought the films too!: 1314 agree, 211 disagree
  • … something I don’t understand, even though I can read every word of it … : 1099 agrees, 93 disagrees
  • Because it’s been released on the internet, the victims suffering will be unlimited … so punishing the criminal with death is also right: 795 agree, 114 disagree
  • Publish the name of his company. If it’s a school or he’s a teacher, we should know: 710 agree, 31 disagree

I have never seen anything like this level of commentary on a western newspaper article. For example, Barry Ritholtz’s article on the Big Lie, in the Washington Post, which was still most popular article a week after it was written, currently has 1793 comments. The top recommended comment has 97 recommendations – after two weeks.

I never had an internet-capable phone when I lived in the west so I don’t know but I think this represents a level of social engagement through cellphones that is completely different to the way westerners approach social media – it’s a much higher level of engagement. Am I right, or does this phenomenon happen in western phonesites too?