Google Japan employee Havill, who gave up US citizenship to become Japanese, and Panasonic “security engineer” Nicolson, who proudly runs a stalker site, wrote thousands of comments and articles harassing foreigners in Japan and staining their names online
—– By Christopher Johnson Japan Journalist
—–For years, Adrian Havill and Ken Nicolson have been enjoying their jobs at two of the most respected corporations in the world — Google and Panasonic — whose products are loved by journalists.
Both Havill and Nicolson have achieved career success in a country where many foreigners have trouble integrating into society. Amid an economic recession and nuclear meltdown that has divided many foreigners in Japan into camps of reform-minded “critics” and conservative “apologists”, Havill and Nicolson have stood out as “Unapologetic Japologists” defending nuclear energy and the image of Japan.
In addition to their internet technology skills, they are prolific writers, churning out more material than many scribes in Japan.
At a time when Panasonic and other Japanese corporations have been laying off thousands of workers and demanding more productivity from employees, Havill and Nicolson have found the time and energy to administer multiple websites and write thousands of comments and articles on sites that have sullied the reputations of more than a dozen foreigners in Japan. These foreigners include journalists, activists, anti-nuclear campaigners, English teachers and anyone who disagrees with their patriotic view of their chosen country.
“I am unapologetically pro-Japan,” Havill told this reporter in a 2,975-word email. “I have strong opinions regarding Japan, and I also have strong opinions regarding journalism and especially journalism ethics. I can’t count the amount of times people have threatened me, attempting to use the information I publicly write (about myself and my opinions) about myself against me.”
In an 857-word comment posted on Nicolson’s site Japologism.com at 8:37 am on Dec. 19, 2012, Havill admitted to writing an unsigned 2,779-word article two years earlier on the shadowy website Japan Probe, which doesn’t declare the real names of editors or writers.
In the May 23, 2011 article on Japan Probe, Havill vowed to “discredit” well-known journalists in Japan, who at that time were investigating the Japanese government’s handling of a nuclear disaster. “By discrediting (or, dare I dream, IMPROVE) the blogs and English-in-Japan sources that the international press uses too often as primary sources, I hope to force the overseas media to do their job better,” he wrote. He chastised New York Times reporters Hiroko Tabuchi and Martin Fackler, and CNN reporter Kyung Lah for allegedly writing “strange and wacky and perverted” stories that “normally would be embarrassing for even a minor paper to write.”
In fact, Tabuchi, Fackler, Lah and other reporters at that time — who were also applauded for their coverage — were often taking great personal risks, while Nicolson, Havill and other critics were relatively safe within their offices and corporate structures.
Since the 2011 article, Havill’s views have been echoed in a large number of postings on Japologism and Japan Probe.
Though it’s a relatively minor website, links to dozens of Japan Probe articles appear unusually high up in Google searches for reporters working for CNN, BBC, the New York Times, the Washington Times, the Japan Times and many others. This has caused some to question if Havill, Nicolson and others are using their technical expertise and insider knowledge to deliberately distort Google search results. (see links at the end of this story)
Fluent in Japanese, Havill and Nicolson are a dynamic duo who enjoy sharing their knowledge of Japan’s world of gadgets and gizmos. They claim to have fathers with links to special forces in the US and intelligence agencies in the UK. To express their faith in Japan, Nicolson uses the Japanese name Yasumoto-Nicolson, while Havill legally changed his name to Eido Inoue and renounced US citizenship officially in March 2012 to become a Japanese citizen.
Nicolson, a British-born “security engineer” at Panasonic in Osaka since 1998, has for years run the stalker sites Tepido.org and Japologism.com, whose stated purpose is to “fact-check” rights activist, author and Japan Times columnist Arudou Debito and his supporters. (http://tepido.org/welcome-to-tepido-org-read-this-first-if-you-dont-know-me-or-what-this-site-is-for)
Havill has long been a main contributor to both stalker sites, which rival the salacious “FuckedGaijin.com” for schoolyard name-calling and moronic behavior. “It’s 99% cheap shots at Arudou Debito,” said US-based lawyer and blogger Rick Gundlach, who worked with IBM in Japan. “The balance are personal attacks on people who use the site as community. The fact that Ken Yasumoto-Nicolson’s sidekicks hide behind anonymity merely shows that they aren’t willing to stand behind what they are saying.”
The harassment of Debito worked. Raised in the United States and educated at Cornell and the University of California in San Diego, Debito loved Japan enough to change his name from David Aldwinckle to Debito Arudou. He married a Japanese woman in 1989, had two kids, and renounced his US citizenship in 2002 to become Japanese. That year, he won a law suit against a hot-spring owner in Hokkaido who forbid entry to Debito and his foreign-looking daughter. Fluent in Japanese, Debito authored handbooks for foreign residents in Japan, and exposed rights abuses for two decades using his popular blog Debito.org. He was admired by many expats, including Havill and Nicolson, who used to comment on the site.
But relations soured over a series of incidents, and Havill and Nicolson turned on Debito. Nicolson set up his stalker site, titled “Tepido.org — not the Hokkaido Crusader”, in direct reference to Debito. He allowed critics, who felt censored by the academic-minded Debito, to spout their vitriol on the Tepido site. A commenter wrote to Debito, saying that Nicolson and his cohorts on Tepido had gathered personal information on 63 commenters on Debito.org. Debito warned commenters on his site to protect themselves by using monikers instead of real names. The result was a bitter flame war between supporters of the two sites, a gulf of animosity that has increasingly spread throughout the expat community in Japan.
After relentless harassment by Havill, Nicolson and others, Debito took a break from his 20-year career as a tenured university professor in Hokkaido and moved to Canada over a year ago. Currently a scholar in Hawaii, he says he’s not sure when he’ll return to the hostile environment awaiting him in Japan, which he still considers his “adopted land.”
On a popular Japan-based youtube show for foreigners, Havill used his Japanese name Eido Inoue and talked about paying a Japanese lawyer 300,000 yen per month to take legal action against men that Havill tried to smear online. It’s clear that Havill was talking mainly about his internet battle with Debito — a battle which Havill started amidst his campaign (stated on JapanProbe.com) to take down journalists.
Near the 38-minute mark of the video, Havill brags about how an email letter from his Japanese lawyer forced Debito to post a public apology to him. “He capitulated in less than 24 hours,” Havill says. “We recommended that he get a lawyer too. It’s amazing how frightening a polite letter can be when your lawyer introduces himself in the first paragraph.” In other words, Havill and his cohorts led an intensive and persistent smear campaign against Debito to hound him out of Japan and damage his career. And then when Debito fought back in self-defense, Havill took legal action against Debito.
Debito is not the only foreigner “hounded” out of Japan. Another American, Joshua Swift, says that Japan Probe hounded him out of Japan last year and stained his name online, making it hard to find work in America to support his Japanese wife and three children.
Michael Q. Todd, a New Zealand-born lawyer and animal rights activist in Japan, said he was considering legal action against Japan Probe for attacking him while he was unable to defend himself in jail in Osaka for 52 days last fall.
Critics have accused Japan Probe of defaming US businessman Christopher Savoie, and reporters for CNN, BBC, the New York Times and many others. Among a rash of vulgar antics, a commenter on Japan Probe last year posted links to nude photos of the Japanese wife of US-born ESL teacher William Milberry in Kyushu, who dared to raise questions about levels of nuclear radiation in Japan.
Others have posted links to banned videos aimed at blackmailing foreigners. Japan Probe’s moderator did nothing to stop it.
Even “Iago”, a frequent commenter on Japologism, says that Japan Probe has gone overboard. “Will Japan Probe stop at nothing to destroy its enemies?” he wrote on Dec. 17 at 3:20 pm.
The actions of Havill, Nicolson and their cohorts, which might lead to punishments or sackings in other countries, raise questions about how Google, Panasonic and other organizations in Japan enforce policies and supervise their foreign employees. Havill and Nicolson are certainly not the only foreigners in Japan doing “side-work” on company time and spending an inordinate amount of energy “playing” on web forums while their Japanese colleagues endure long hours with unpaid overtime for demanding bosses. But Havill and Nicolson have made themselves into prominent figures in Japan’s cyber-world, and they are controversial because they harass journalists at CNN, BBC, the New York Times and others who are among the best customers of Google and Panasonic products.
Gundlach says that in the least, it looks bad for Google to have an employee posting on sites that end up besmirching the names of people on Google’s search engines. “That two middle-aged, midlevel key employees (of some-reported importance) within their respective companies, do this routinely, is something that would make you sit back in your chair and really read that laptop again,” Gundlach says. He refers to their activities as being “employed during the day, and employing sock puppets to wile the day away.”
Havill is certainly not lazy or lacking in energy. He attended school near CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and after completing college, he became an assistant language teacher in Osaka from 1993-96. He performed various IT jobs in America and Japan before joining Google Japan in 2008. A mid-level manager in the “social division” at Google Japan, located in the elite Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills in central Tokyo, he has somehow been drawn down into the lower levels of cyberspace in Japan, where it’s easy for sleazy foreigners to take advantage of Japan’s relative lack of legal curbs against hate speech.
The son of an investigative journalist and author, Havill sometimes writes comments more exhaustive than the work he critiques, say people who know him from social events for IT workers and groups such as Amnesty International. Typing away during regular Google business hours in Asia, he’ll post 1000 or 1500 words of comments in response to 600 or 1000-word feature stories. Somehow, while writing messages that show up at all hours of the day or night, Havill also has the time and energy to run marathons, in addition to that other thing he’s doing — working for the world’s leading search engine company.
During a 6-day period around his Google business trip to Wuxi, China last December, Havill spent valuable time digging up links and writing thousands of words on Japologism.com. Even one of his shadowy cohorts, “VK”, who has posted thousands of comments on various sites, warned Havill that his compulsive behavior could damage his career. “A future employer might not be so keen to hire someone who – according to these mad allegations – spends so much time on the Internet attacking people,” he wrote on Japologism.com. Yet Havill and Nicolson have continued their offensives even after Havill’s employer, Google, removed some Japan Probe articles and YouTube videos from their search results due to complaints about defamation and bullying.
With their reputations damaged online, some of Japan Probe’s targets say they have lost jobs or contracts, moved out of Japan, suffered anxiety, or found it hard to find work. In some cases, they weren’t allowed to comment in their own defense on Japan Probe, which has erstwhile declared its support for “bloggers rights” and “press freedom”. Victims still don’t know who to sue, or how, since Japan Probe’s host domain, California-based Media Temple, has refused to release details about its owners.
Several of Japan Probe’s targets say that Havill is playing a key role in Japan Probe’s smear campaign. Havill has neither clearly confirmed or denied that he is writing the articles himself, and he has contradicted himself in various statements over the past year.
Havill and Nicolson are not without fans in Japan; the “Eido Inoue” Google Plus account has more than 7000 people in his circle. Some of their writing is indeed insightful, accurate and supported by links to data. In some ways, their skepticism over the media is needed in a society known for its lack of criticism.
But many question their ethics and morals, and the wisdom of their involvement in trashy sites that most Google and Panasonic employees wouldn’t touch with a barge-pole.
Though they have taken on Japanese identities, their critics say that their actions online often display a true lack of respect for basic Japanese values of modesty, decency, and loyalty to an employer. Gundlach says they are doing things that no honest Japanese worker “would ever dream of doing” because of the ramifications. Certain expats, he says, misbehave online “without so much as a second thought” of any consequences. “Japan does not regulate what foreigners in Japan do to other foreigners connected to Japan.”
Observers, speaking privately for fear of reprisals, wonder if Havill and Nicolson might be using their IT skills for “other purposes,” such as hacking or real-life stalking. Whatever they might be doing behind the scenes, Havill and Nicolson have certainly not taken the high road online to project spotless corporate images. They are unabashedly leading a small cadre of so-called “cyber-haters” who use numerous pseudonyms — such as “VK” and “Jerry” — to bully their targets and dominate the comments sections of many traditional media sites.
In January 2012, “VK”, one of the most obdurate trolls on Japologism and Japan Probe, wrote no less than 5300 words in at least 18 comments on The Economist attacking this reporter and Economist writer Kenneth Cukier over an article called “Gulag for Gaijin” about the detention and expulsion from Japan of thousands of foreigners. Thanks to Japan’s “Comment Crew”, the article drew the second most comments of any Economist story online that week, more than stories about the US Republican leadership campaign.
Nicolson, Havill and their brethren, who stalk Debito wherever he appears online, have recently begun to invade the comment section of the Japan Times, with 61 comments to Debito’s column about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Debito’s story was 1184 words long. “Eido Inoue’s” six comments total 1526 words. As one editor privately noted, “it’s as if the state apparatus are paying them by the word.”
Cowering behind pseudonyms, “VK” and the others can sometimes be relentless and rude, with little regard for civility or logical fallacies. In the guise of “fact-checking” journalists, they use words like “nutbar” and “douche-bag” that influence the thinking of writers using their real names.
One of the most deceptive trolls, “VK” tends to sound intelligent while claiming that seasoned pro journalists he’s never met “need psychiatric treatment.”
Some say these uncouth foreigners are merely keeping stride with their Japanese counterparts on Japan’s “2channel,” a site notorious for hate speech, anonymous posts, and involvement in more than a dozen libel suits. (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2009/02/03/issues/2channel-the-bullies-forum/#.USYrxmZ5Ecg)
A Washington Post article this week noted how Miki Dezaki, a Japanese-American English teacher and video-maker who raised issues of discrimination in Japan, has come under attack by what the Post called an “informal army of young, hyper-nationalist Japanese Web users who tend to descend on any article — or person — they perceive as critical of Japan.” The article said these “neto-uyo,” short for “internet rightists”, made death threats and hounded his employers, previous employers, and even local politicians. “When the ‘Racism in Japan’ video made it onto 2chan, outraged users flocked to the comments section on YouTube to attempt to discredit the video. They attacked Dezaki as ‘anti-Japanese’ and fumed at him for warping Japanese schoolchildren with ‘misinformation.’”
Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders calls it “information pollution.” Psychologists such as Judy Van Raalte, based in Springfield, Massachusetts, call it “de-individuation”: a process of losing self-awareness in groups, such as with Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan.
In the case of Japan, jumping online with pseudonyms on Japologism or Japan Probe allows people with a lynch-mob mentality to lose their sense of accountability and do things they wouldn’t do under their own name or on the street in full public view.
Havill, Nicolson and their cohorts, including well-known bloggers Hikosaemon, Victor Boggio and OurManInAbiko, have been notably quick to kick people when they’re down.
Indeed, Japan Probe’s main targets have often been unable to defend themselves in Japan due to being expelled, jailed, unemployed or relocated out of the country.
Why would employees of blue-chip corporations take part in this? Some say it’s a sort of “online sport.” Debito calls it their “hobby.” Gundlach compares it to a game of tag, where someone is “it.”
Other observers, comparing the Japologism gang to China’s army unit known as “The Comment Crew,” say their goal is to shape public opinion and defend the Japanese state by intimidating anyone who questions the government’s handling of immigration issues, the Fukushima nuclear meltdown and relations with China, South Korea and North Korea.
Japan Probe, in particular, tends to attack targets by misrepresenting their statements or actions. An article will take one detail, blow it out of context and proportion, and make no attempt to show the other side. The attacks are personal, with little regard for decency. As Gundlach says: “The level of disagreement expressed on Japan Probe would go beyond the mere disagreement with what was reported, into insinuations of whether the reporters were capable of reporting. In one case, details about a divorce were included at one point.”
Founded in 2006, Japan Probe, which links to erotic dating sites and sells Google ads, erroneously claims to be “the most popular English language blog about Japan news and entertainment.” Its site traffic has declined by two-thirds over the past year, according to Gundlach’s blog, citing data found online. Alexa.com lists more than 14,000 sites in Japan that are more popular than Japan Probe. (Havill’s employer, Google Japan, ranks #2 behind Yahoo Japan.)
(http://hoofin.wordpress.com/2013/02/17/japan-probe-not-posting-so-much-these-days-whats-up-with-james-probel/) (http://www.japanprobe.com/author-information) (http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/japanprobe.com.)
Japan Probe also claims to have 23 “contributors” working under “James Probel,” who the site lists as an “American” who spends time “reading and posting on blogs, and he’s terribly addicted to it.”
For all their attempts to “fact-check” Debito and others, Havill and Nicolson have never questioned how Japan Probe can claim to have 23 contributors without ways to contact them to verify their existence. They also don’t question the opinion of any Japan Probe writer, and they don’t act to defend the targeted prey.
As one savvy victim has pointed out, Havill, an employee of Google, has also never questioned how “James Probel” can have a Google Plus page, with 896 followers, in violation of Google policies requiring people to use their real names, not pseudonyms. (http://plusfriendfinder.pl/plus/116637730954770072471)
All of this has created suspicion around Havill. Asked about his role in Japan Probe, Havill has contradicted himself in various statements over the past year. When asked why Japan Probe wouldn’t allow a reporter to comment in self defense, Havill replied in an email on Nov. 9: “I don’t know if you’re banned (and if you are, I don’t know about it)… anyway, I don’t maintain the site or have any special privileges, but I know a guy who knows a guy who runs it, so I’ll try asking him. I can’t promise anything though, as it’s not my site, and I don’t have disqus? comment or posting privileges there.”
However, on Dec. 15, Havill, referring to Japan Probe editor “James Probel”, said on Japologism.com: “It’s no secret that “James” and I know each other and communicate, both online and in real life often. You should’ve found that photo online of us pictured together. I suspect it’s an amateur tactic to try to get me to reveal who he is (which I won’t) to defend myself.”
Havill, during his Google business trip in China, wrote an unsolicited letter to this reporter on Dec. 17, his third letter that year. “Did you really believe that james was me, or was that a tactic to try to flush out james? if you answer this question, i’ll give you a hint as to who he _really_ is.,” Havill said. “i suspect you were trying to flush him out, as you’re too smart of a reporter to have made a mistake like that. in that case… well played sir, well played.”
Havill then went on to blame “debito’s hate & desire for revenge” as the reason he wouldn’t disclose the identity. “As us ‘apologists’ know, all you have to do is write something negative about japan or his “enemies”, and debito will publish first, ask questions later (if ever),” he wrote. “I can’t tell you james full name though, sorry. just a hint. as you’re a reporter i’m sure you can appreciate the need to try to protect sources.”
Then, on Dec. 19, Havill admitted that he wrote the Japan Probe article in May 2011 vowing to “discredit” journalists.
In an email dated February 23, 2013, Havill denied that he “owns or controls” Japan Probe. However, he declined to answer questions about his involvement with Japan Probe, and to clarify how many articles he has written for the site.
All of this has led many observers to suspect that Havill could in fact be writing the unsigned attack articles in Japan Probe, but he’s afraid to admit it, fearing a series of law suits.
Nicolson, who often boasts about being able to “out” commenters through their computer’s internet protocol addresses, has defended Havill, saying that he never uses pseudonyms and has no connection to Japan Probe. “Eido has never employed sock puppets on Japologism, and is most certainly not James of Japan Probe, VK, Level3, nor the man on the grassy knoll,” Nicolson wrote on Japologism on Dec. 18. “Accusing Eido of fiddling Google search rankings is as rational as accusing your bank manager of popping down to the Royal Mint/Department of the Treasury/whatever in the evening to run off a few fivers.”
At any rate, it’s not clear why Havill and Nicolson got involved with hate sites, and why they begrudge journalists and activists.
Havill’s father, also named Adrian, was a US army paratrooper and editor of a newspaper in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home to elite US special forces who often use pseudonyms for protection during covert operations. According to CBS News, he headed an award-winning DC-area public relations and advertising firm. He did long stories about the 1987 stock crash and the 1993 killings at the CIA building in Virginia. Havill is perhaps best known for his unauthorized biography of Jack Kent Cooke and his book Deep Truth denouncing Washington Post reporters famous for breaking the Watergate scandal. Kirkus Reviews wrote that: “both Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein refused to assist Havill (The Last Mogul, 1992) in his inquiries for the exhaustively researched, if gossipy, profiles at hand. Havill has amassed a wealth of dirt-dishing detail that allows him to put an essentially unfavorable spin on his subjects’ personal and professional lives. Havill concludes that Deep Throat was a composite, and that Woodward and Bernstein didn’t let inconvenient facts stand in the way of good stories.”
Nicolson, meanwhile, claimed on Japologism on Feb. 19 at 9:25 am (regular Panasonic business hours) that his father “used to work at Bletchley Park”, the historic site where British code-breakers, who signed the Official Secrets Act, were able to decipher German and Japanese messages during World War II. (http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bletchley_Park)
According to his Linkedin profile, Nicolson studied computer science from 1982-1986 at Heriot-Watt University in the UK. He lists his specialties at Panasonic as “security, trust, Japan,” and his duties as “trusted computing, mobile phones, and associated security and encryption-related issues.” He also runs a website, “What Japan Thinks,” featuring articles such as: “Suspecting your partner is having an affair,” and “Features of an awkward colleague.” (http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dir/Ken/Yasumoto.)
Havill runs the blog “Turning Japanese” with others including Jon Heese, a Canadian who became a Japanese citizen in 2007 and an elected lawmaker in Tsukuba, Japan. The blog details how Havill legally changed his name to “Eido Inoue” and renounced his US citizenship in March 2012 to gain a Japanese passport, giving him the right to vote in elections last year. (http://www.turning-japanese.info/p/authors.html)
Though Havill uses only “Eido Inoue” on his Linkedin and Google Plus pages, he often uses “Havill” or “Adrian D. Havill” on web forums as well as “Eido Inoue.” His critics allege that he is also using a number of phony names, known as sock-puppets, to cyber-bully targets, recruit commenters and deceive readers into thinking his views are popular with a large number of readers.
In a letter posted and then removed from Debito.org, a group of alleged victims of Japan Probe articles said that Japan Probe articles, sock puppet accounts and Havill’s “official” posts share the exact same grammar, diction, thought patterns, prejudices, points of view, obsessions for certain issues, and targets, notably Debito and his supporters. In the letter, they noted the unusual “coincidence” that Havill, Eido Inoue, Level 3, Barry McMeany, Impressive and others are often commenting online — with each other — at the same times in a form of psycho-babble that might draw the attention of police or psychiatrists in other countries. The group also said that the sock-puppetry is aimed at distorting Google search results in order to “toxify” the online reputations of victims. They urged Google to investigate, and they called on Media Temple, a domain hosting company in California, to tear down Japan Probe.
Spokespersons for Media Temple have not replied to written requests for comment. One US-based victim, who fears reprisals from Havill, says that Media Temple wrote him a letter saying they wouldn’t remove the site or reveal ownership, but they would cooperate with any court action against Japan Probe.
Opponents of Havill have noted that Havill and “Level 3” are indeed often online at the same time, supporting each other’s views and almost never arguing, something rare in the cyber world of heated debates. “Level 3” often claims — as Havill does — to be an expert on Japan’s justice and immigration systems. “Level 3” has also boasted several times about his ability to manipulate Google’s search engine algorithms to ensure that derogatory articles about particular targets — including this reporter — rank high on Google searches.
“Word is going to break out of Japan to other publications around the world,” Level 3 wrote on Japologism on Feb. 16, 2012 at 6:22 p.m. “If we keep calling him ‘CJ,’ how will Googlers find this? Christopher Johnson Japan Asia journalist reporter.”
On Feb. 17, 2012 at 12:03 a.m., he wrote: “Chistopher Johnson Asia Japan journalist needs help … and needs to go back to covering sports.”
One minute later, he wrote it again, to “trick” the Google search engine. “dammit I spelled it wrong. Christopher Johnson Japan Asia journalist needs help.”
After other pseudonyms accused him of being Adrian Havill, “Level 3” bid farewell and disappeared from web forums in December. He left behind a trail of thousands of snide comments.
While Havill has not confirmed or denied being “Level 3” or “James Probel” of Japan Probe, it’s clear that slam articles by Japan Probe and associated sites such as Japologism do appear higher up on Google searches than on other search sites such as Bing.
Japan Probe’s article (“Gagworthy journalism”) appears first on Google searches for “Roland Buerk Japan journalist,” ahead of a Daily Telegraph article, read by millions, about the former BBC Tokyo correspondent marrying the woman who saved him from the 2004 tsunami. A similar search for Buerk on Bing.com, which seems to better reflect the reality of Buerk’s public standing, shows listings for the Telegraph, Linkedin, the BBC, and Wikipedia — all which have millions of users — ahead of the Japan Probe article.
Likewise, a Japan Probe article appears second on Google searches for “Kyung Lah Japan journalist,” higher than her excellent reports that have reached millions on CNN.
Japan Probe’s article discrediting New York Times Tokyo correspondent Martin Fackler, one of the only foreign reporters to visit the site of the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactors, ranks number six on Google searches.
Google also turns up a Japan Probe article on March 26, 2011 about NYT reporter Hiroko Tabuchi’s coverage of the Fukushima meltdown, which the government was trying to cover up at that time. Havill, who would later claim to have no direct connection to Japan Probe’s editor, asked Tabuchi on twitter on clarify her story. In an update, Japan Probe published her reply tweet to Havill.
In the same post, a commenter, “FullFrontal” wrote: “Kyung Lah, Tabuchi Hiroko, and Norimitsu Onishi…Why do American media have to send to Japan journalists who have a deep-rooted hatred toward Japan?”
The moderator “James” did not jump in with a correction — as moderators do at Japan Today — and point out that Tabuchi is from Kobe, Japan, not the US. Tabuchi, whose articles often show a deep understanding of local issues and sentiments, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of Japan in 2011.
Google listings for Joshua Swift, a former pharmaceutical industry employee in Japan who has accused Japan Probe of ruining his name online, are dominated by Japan Probe and other sites which picked up its articles. Swift’s alleged “crime?” He was worried about the potential effects of nuclear radiation on his three toddlers and their relatives in Fukushima, and his mother in Kansas set up a donation site to raise money from friends and relatives for his family’s move from Japan to the US. He said that Japan Probe attacked him to the point where his mother removed the donation site from YouCaring.com.
One Japan Probe article about Swift generated 189 comments. “I don’t think it’s radiation poisoning – it sounds more like Zeolite poisoning…,” wrote Nicolson. Among various snide remarks, “Level 3” wrote: “Follow the money. Or go ahead and donate, sucker.”
Amid a lynch-mob mentality, Swift received threats such as this one on May 7, 2012 on twitter from @JapanWebScene: “@Chibarooks is the biggest lying, piece of shit fraudster on the Internet. Do the world a favour and kill yourself.”
After seeing the articles in Japan Probe, mainstream media such as VOA picked up the story, further tarnishing Swift’s name online, he says.
A year ago, Japan Probe led a campaign against this reporter, posting seven articles and banning this reporter from making a single comment in response.
Japan Probe’s campaign against its targets is likely aimed at gaining attention, a trait consistent with other forms of bullying, say psychologists. Alexa.com, which monitors internet traffic, lists the top queries driving traffic to Japan Probe. It found that the name of this reporter ranked first, ahead of “Japan Probe,” “Do the Japanese eat dolphins,” “manga series” and also “Yoshiko Noda,” Japan’s former prime minister. An expert on social media, commenting privately to avoid reprisals, said that this indicates that Japan Probe’s operators had successfully figured out how to drive Google search results for “Christopher Johnson Japan journalist” toward Japan Probe’s attack articles, in order to gain hits and sell more Google ads. In other words, as the source explained, people searching for books or articles by this reporter would likely end up seeing attack articles in Japan Probe, all of which means more money for Japan Probe.
Indeed, a Google search for “Christopher Johnson Japan journalist” shows four Japan Probe articles on top, and links to posts by Japologism.com, but strangely no link to an article in Globalite Magazine that drew 25,000 views and coverage in The Economist. A similar search on Bing.com shows different results, with less prominence for Japan Probe, and more links to this reporter’s own work.
Perplexed by these results, this reporter wrote several letters to Google over the past year. A Google spokesperson, identified as “Sam, Google Press Team”, responded on Nov. 1, 2012: “Unfortunately we cannot offer you an interview partner regarding your inquiry.”
Panasonic did not reply to requests for comment.
While Google managers in other countries have removed links to Japan Probe articles that violate Google policies about defamation and harassment, Google Japan did not follow suit. Google Japan has also recently been the subject of a lawsuit in which a Japanese man claims Google search results favored the cyber-bullies he accuses of ruining his career.
It’s not clear if Havill’s actions, such as writing on a stalker site during work hours, would violate Google policies about conflict of interest or breach of trust. It’s also not certain if Havill or his colleagues at Google Japan have been involved in retaining links which have been flagged for removal by Google affiliates in other countries.
In his February 2012 letter, Havill noted that he has worked in Google’s mobile and social divisions, not the search division. “We’re an awfully big company. Blaming or accusing me for something in search is like blaming a GE engineer for a jet engine even though he works overseas in the light bulb division.”
“In fact, I don’t have access to read nor modify any data or algorithms related to search (search is considered to be high value intellectual property within Google and access to its data and algorithms is highly restricted and regulated even amongst its employees). Furthermore, even those in search who have access work through multiple layers of checks and balances and reviews,” he wrote. “Search is a multi-billion dollar business, so every single thing that is done is carefully logged, reviewed, audited, experimented on, and analyzed via exhaustive statistics and quality control. It’s highly doubtful that even within search, a theoretical rogue employee could influence, alter, or sabotage search results for the purpose of reflecting a personal opinion.”
Whatever might be true, Havill and Nicolson are certainly playing a risky game by indulging in flame wars online. If they are indeed indulging in sock-puppetry, manipulating Google search results or stealing information, they could face not only punishment by Google and Panasonic but also in the real world of police and courts, in Japan and the home countries of victims. As one source says, “two middle-aged white males with high-paying jobs probably wouldn’t garner much sympathy.”
Global outrage over cyber bullying has spiked in recent months following the suicide last year by a Canadian teenager who first posted a video, detailing cyber harassment. Canadian police have assigned special teams of officers to investigate cyber harassment, including cases involving this reporter.
President Obama mentioned the threat of cyber espionage and hacking during his State of the Union address this month. US-based groups have accused China’s military of employing a so-called “Comment Crew” to hack into computers, steal information, and discredit perceived enemies. Rolling Stone magazine recently profiled notorious US cyber presence Hunter Moore, founder of a “revenge porn” website that drew FBI attention. Rolling Stone called Moore “The Most Hated Man on the Internet.” (http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/the-most-hated-man-on-the-internet-20121113)
Cyber-bullying gained attention in Japan in 2007 when a teenager leapt to his death at his school in Kobe after bullies posted a nude photo of him and demanded money. A government survey that year found 10 percent of high schoolers had been harassed online, according to Reuters. The current figures are likely much higher, say experts.
Investigators, such as those at the International Project on Cyber Bullying in Canada, have noted that cyber bullying has extra impact in Japan, where people fear being ostracized from the group. In a TIME magazine story this week, William Copeland of Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina reported that their research shows that the effects of bullying are long-lasting, and they can even lead to psychiatric problems, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse in adults. (http://healthland.time.com/2013/02/22/sticks-and-stones-does-facebook-and-twitter-give-bullying-more-power/#ixzz2LhKBDUCM)
Japanese police, who were slow at first to comprehend the epidemic of cyber-bullying in Japan, recently charged a man with using the computers of unsuspecting people to harass people and make bomb threats. Japanese mainstream media such as NHK TV have recently paid more attention to online mischief in Japan. Japan’s government last year announced a new anti-bullying task-force to deal with problems at schools. But much less attention in general is paid to cyber-bullying by adults, especially foreigners. As Gundlach has noted, Japanese authorities generally allow foreigners to “self-regulate,” giving foreigners more freedom to get away with delinquent behavior in Japan than they would in their native countries.
It’s not clear whether Japanese authorities would take action against Japan Probe or investigate any possible involvement of Nicolson and Havill. In the very least, it is certain that Nicolson and Havill have contributed hundreds of comments to articles that serve little purpose other than to harass the targeted subjects. Havill’s 2,500-word rant in Japan Probe in May 2011, only weeks after the March 11 tsunami, came at a time when another site was ridiculing hard-working reporters on its “Journalism Wall of Shame.” (The site lambasted this reporter, who doesn’t write German, over the phrasing of a German-language article that appeared in Die Welt.)
Havill’s article in Japan Probe clearly spelled out his intentions to discredit foreign journalists and bloggers in Japan, especially Debito, who has been blogging since 1993. Havill said this was necessary because, in his view, foreign journalists “never properly did investigative journalism in Japan” and “rarely spoke or read or wrote proper fluent, native or near-native Japanese.”
“I never envisioned how bad this unprofessional behavior could become until the Kantō/Tōhoku Disaster really put the international media to the test with a demanding journalistic task,” he wrote. “Prior to 3/11, I thought the international press’ ineptitude was a harmless diversion. You could count on normally respectable papers like NYT to pander to its audience’s desire for the “strange and wacky and perverted” (it pays the bills) with stuff that normally would be embarrassing for even a minor paper to write: Japanese girls eyeing hostess careers (Tabuchi), people dressing up as vending machines (Fackler), and almost everything that CNN’s Kyung Lah writes … After 3/11, the stakes changed.”
“I want the international press to start hiring more professionals that will do their own homework, rather than distort information they got from an English blog in Japan, which distorted information about an English newspaper in Japan, which distorted a translation from an Japanese newspaper in Japan, whose editor distorted the notes from a Japanese press conference reporter, which distorted what a PR person said, who distorted the truth in the first place!” he continued.
Havill then vowed to harass Debito and participants on his blog about human rights issues in Japan. “Debito.org is one of the worst, in that it’s (perhaps unintentionally) based on hate and the presumption that everything in Japan is bad, and it has undeserved legitimacy attached to it because the blog author has a monthly column in a relatively minor niche English national paper in Japan — which is given too much weight by the international press because the paper is written in English and the international press can’t read Japanese well.”
“debito.org and company must change or go away,” Havill continued on Japan Probe. “If debito.org or “Just Be Cause” doesn’t or can’t be reformed, I’d be satisfied with discrediting them, so that no legit press, international or domestic, would dare attempt to use them as a source, lest they be caught and shamed and laughed at for using such a unreliable information.”
Havill said Nicolson’s site, http://www.tepido.org, which later became Japologism.com, was the best place to do this. “It’s not perfect: it’s crude, often immature, and too personal. I often wince when I read both the posts and comments (including my own). But it’s free (as in speech), and it seems to be effective based on how I’ve seen debito.org react to it. Additionally, I now work with other native Japanese to work on making Japan a little friendlier towards true human rights issues in Japan.”
Havill’s views in 2011 have been repeated in several Japan Probe articles since then. An unsigned April 2012 slam article, which garnered 52 comments, said that Debito and this reporter are a “dying breed, the colonial type who spat on his Japanese servants in the 19th century, the missionary type who printed thousands of pages of invective against pagan culture in the 1930s, the cosmopolitan type who wore Halloween costumes and had drinking parties on Tokyo trains in the 1990s, the type of person who, now that the money is disappearing, has only his clean-room dreams to keep him in the country.”
Many foreigners in Japan, fearing harassment, have been afraid to speak out against Japan Probe and Japologism. But US-based lawyer Gundlach, who runs a blog called “Hoofin,” has frequently criticized the ethics of relatively wealthy Google and Panasonic employees stalking Debito, who is now a student in Hawaii, and reporters with lower incomes.
“It troubles me when someone who works for a search engine company is faulting the mainstream media for not having enough reporters in Japan. His company makes it difficult for traditional media to make money. The search engine company is part of the reason why news departments are starving, since their product is being put out (by Google) for free, not as paid content. Then, he criticizes the fact that the traditional media don’t put enough resources into Japan to do what he feels is good reporting,” Gundlach commented on Japan Probe two years ago. “The company operates a search engine based off technology that was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. The company accepts ad revenue but does not share with the news media content providers. I think recently there was a case that went against them on the issue of digitizing old books and then “letting people search” for them. It is disturbing to read that someone who is connected with a major corporation (whose main product is a search engine), has trouble with news media not properly staffing Japan.”
Debito, who has withstood a barrage of Japan Probe attacks, noted on his website in December how anonymous amateur bloggers are increasingly taking the place of traditional journalists trained in ethics, balance, and the “role of media as a watchdog and an influencer of public opinion.” He wrote that many bloggers are indulging “in an unethical means to amplify their voice by masquerading as others by writing under multiple monikers or within multiple venues — sometimes having conversations with themselves (“sock-puppeting”) as a means to create the veneer of majority-view legitimacy. This has led to bullying of minority voices by a very small but dedicated cadre of people, who use their anonymity to make sure that their activities will very rarely be uncovered because of the lack of direct evidence.”
On this point, at least, Havill agrees. “It doesn’t matter what pseudonymous people on blogs write about you or me because they have no credentials,” Havill wrote in his email. “It’s impossible to know if they know what they’re talking about, they’re not responsible for their misstatements, and they’re entitled to freedom of expression. Libel from a pseudonym is worthless. Nobody gives it any weight, because it’s a pseudonym. I recommend you ignore it.”
A year after that comment about “libel” being worthless, Havill and his allies have stepped up threats to sue Debito, this reporter and others who try to expose their actions online.
Sources say that a careful study of Havill’s comments during the week of his Google business trip to China strongly indicate that he is likely using multiple accounts, known as sock-puppets. (Nicolson, perhaps anticipating an investigative article about himself and Havill, has deleted a series of comments on Japologism, which might show evidence of Havill’s behavior.)
Observers note the unusual coincidence that Havill, “Level 3” and others would be online, commenting on Japologism in Havill’s defense, at exactly the same time on a Saturday afternoon in December while Havill was preparing for the China business trip. Nicolson and others did not appear online to comment until several hours later.
On Dec. 15, Havill, responding to allegations of sock-puppetry raised by other commenters, wrote on Japologism: “Whoa. I’m all these people? I’ve been really busy.”
At 4:17 pm, “Iago” advised Havill to “take the high road” to avoid a fight.
(Havill, however, would spend the next week writing a large number of comments and thousands of words while on a Google business trip.)
At 5:09 pm that Saturday, Havill wrote to himself, “Eido Inoue”: “Shut up moron! You’re blowing our cover!”
At 5:11 pm, “Adrian D. Havill” wrote to both @havill and @Eido Inoue: “Would both of you please calm down and let me, myself and I handle this?”
At 5:20 pm, “Level 3” replied to @Eido: “Don’t engage, but be sure to have your employer ready to record and inform you of any phone calls in the near future trying to get you fired,” he wrote. “It’s all just a silly gamble to try to get more personal info so they can… call our employers and try to get us fired. Hoping to put us and our families on the streets in the cold, cold winter with a risk we might even die, all for the ‘crime’ of daring to disagree with them in an argument on the internet.”
In several comments, “Level 3” appeared personally insulted and hurt by the allegations against Havill, and ended one comment by saying, “Better things to do.”
The next day, Dec. 16, the conversation turned to how to manipulate Google search results. A commenter named “Tkyo” wrote on Japologism: “I have another buddy recently who got hired by google because he was able to figure out how to manipulate the algorithm of the search engine to make his site come up in search engines as well.”
Havill, from December 15 to December 21, wrote thousands of words in posts using his name “Havill” and possibly more under pseudonyms.
On Dec. 17, 10:06 a.m., while Havill was in Wuxi, China, he wrote several lengthy comments on Japologism. He said that he would seek legal advice about possibly suing Debito: “I also will schedule an appointment with the appropriate professionals to discuss how to deal with this matter in a more formal manner. Once I do this, I’m afraid I will have to go into radio silence with you all, so forgive me if I can’t/don’t provide you with updates.”
Instead of remaining silent, Havill, however, provided a lengthy update 40 minutes later. “My relinquishment of U.S. citizenship was made official March 28, 2012. It can sometimes take years, if EVER, for one’s name to appear on that list. By searching for “Adrian Havill,” they won’t find anything except for my father; I legally changed my name, both in Japan AND the United States, prior to naturalization. I’m not / wasn’t a “Junior” because my father and I have different middle names. Sometimes we use our middle names amongst family to differentiate between ourselves — even though my own father calls me Eido now — which is shortened from Eidorian, in honor of my father)”
A day later, a group of cyber-stalkers, using pseudonyms for years, consulted each other about how Google and a Google employee should contact police and lawyers in order to file a libel suit against journalists who use their real names in published stories. Havill spent a lot of time on Japologism that afternoon writing lengthy diatribes and joining sock-puppets urging Havill and Google superiors to contact police and lawyers to take actions against Havill’s perceived enemies. His “Havill” posts appeared at 1:21 p.m., 1:32 p.m., 6:06 p.m., and 6:41 p.m., which many people would consider business hours in Japan.
With Havill accused of sock-puppetry, a commenter began using numbers instead of names. Using the pseudonym “Post 2591,” Havill perhaps unintentionally “outed” himself by repeating a claim, made by a boastful Havill months earlier, that he had outed a commenter on the Economist, observers say.
A new commenter, “post #6534423,” appeared at 3:16 pm, saying “Eido legally changed his name from Havill to Eido.”
Another new commenter, “post #6534451,” asked Nicolson to get the IP addresses of other commenters, for use in a possible libel suit in court. (http://japologism.com/sock-puppets-and-google-jiggery-pokery/144/comment-page-1#comment-2471)
At 5 p.m. and 5:20 pm, newly arrived commenters named “Topaz” and “Steve” displayed unusual expertise about internal Google operations.
According to “Steve”: “Any employee encountering public defamation of the company, or public defamation of an employee prominently identified with the company, is required to a) immediately escalate the issue to management (who will then engage the proper department) and b) NOT get involved. The penalty for violating b) is usually termination.”
“Taurus” wrote at 5:24 p.m.: “I don’t know how stalking is dealt with by police in Japan, but I would be tempted to report this at the very least in case anything more serious/sinister happens in the future.”
The conversation continued throughout the working day, and late into the night, even after midnight.
At 12:46 a.m., “post #6534462” asked other commenters to find and send a link to an illegal blackmail video, which has been banned by YouTube, a company owned by Havill’s employer Google. “Could anyone who has this message recording please re-upload it somewhere? Vimeo is pretty good about leaving things up.”
At 12:54 a.m., the same commenter posted a message accusing a journalist of “perversion” and sexual harassment. He included a link to a Google product.
The same person posted more messages at 01:30 a.m. and 01:38 a.m.
At 8:37 a.m. Dec. 19, Havill wrote “good morning everybody” and posted on Japologism his 859-word comment with links to five articles.
At 10:34 a.m., during regular business hours, a new pseudonym “hidingfromcj” appeared. He seemed eager to refute allegations on Japologism that Havill is somehow connected to the CIA. The commenter “hidingfromcj” showed expertise about Langley, Virginia, where Havill grew up. “Obviously, if Eido went to school in Langley, and Langley is where CIA HQ is, then Eido is a CIA spy, right? But what if he really works for the Federal Highway Administration? Their Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center is located in Langley. Or maybe Eido works for the National Park Service, on the Claude Moore Colonial Farm (also Langley).”
At 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 19, Havill wrote that he has used a sophisticated device — a “third party tracker” — to track journalists looking into his conduct. “I do have a third party version-tracker daemon attached to that page: the page went through a few edits, and at one point it did disappear (as well as other comments) — I have digitally signed copies — but it did reappear after the comments were pruned. The deletion may have been a WordPress and/or author maintenance burp, so yes, striking the text out to reflect its current state (the page has been fluxing with the edits) is appropriate now.”
At 9:17 a.m. on Dec. 20, Havill began the work day by posting a 294-word ad hominem attack against Debito. “Debito Arudou is a grown man. I’m not required to hold his hand, spoon feed him, advise him, warn him, or educate him,” he wrote. “There’s a very good reason why good responsible professional journalists, writers, and academics do not publish by indiscriminately throwing every turd against the wall to see what sticks. Anyway, regarding the ifs, how, who, when, why, or what I or others are doing about this, I’m afraid I can’t publicly fill anyone in on that at this time.”
On 3:44 p.m. on Dec. 20, “HidingfromCJ” posted a 230-word comment: “Unfortunately there are the Fredrick Gundlach’s of the world who will believe any damn thing they see on the internet, and they tell their two loyal village idiot readers, who tell two more village idiots, and so on, and so on…”
The comments continued at 5:07 am, 5:20 am, and 5:24 am on the morning of Dec. 21 and later at 10:29 am, 7:08 pm and 7:32 pm. At 11:43 p.m., “Comment 2624” wrote an 1,145-word post followed 18 minutes later by another.
All in all, Havill wrote at least 1000 words in his “official name,” and possible 1000 more, if he was indeed using those new pseudonyms, between 5 a.m. Friday and midnight Friday. He perhaps wrote more than 5000 words that week, a considerable effort for any writer, let alone someone ostensibly working at the same time for Google Japan.
Havill’s literary efforts won’t likely win a Pulitzer. Articles and comments by cyber-bullies in Japan have cost victims millions of yen in losses, say the victims. It has also cost Nicolson, Havill, VK and others a considerable amount of time that could have gone towards other passions. In his letter last year, Havill seemed to recognize the addictive power of writing on the internet. “Blogging, tweeting, commenting and social media in general is a lot like drinking,” he wrote. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s social. It can pave the way to new connections. It can be rewarding and useful. There are, however, some people that can’t handle it (even professional journalists and authors; there are even bartenders that don’t drink) and should just abstain; in the long run they can’t control themselves and will hurt their image more than enhance it.”
For Japan Probe, the irony is that some of its most frequent posters and supporters have turned against it.
Twitter user @JapanWebScene is a case in point. On April 29, he was a fan, tweeting: “Thanks to JapanProbe, one of the few good sites out there, for exposing fraud among people writing about Fukushima.”
On June 29, he saluted Japan Probe’s slander of CNN’s Kyung Lah. “Good riddance! Japan rejoices!”
The same day, he tweeted this: “Spread the word: Japan Web REGUL8RZ expose the fraud known as foreign journalists in Japan.”
But, as traffic slowed on Japan Probe, and Havill took to posting his opinions and little articles on Google Plus, the tweeter @JapanWebScene on Feb. 11 this year wrote: “@JamesJPN RIP Japan Probe. Used to be a good site, then went brainwashed support of J-government positions, now barely updates.”
Ever since Havill’s trip to China in December, Japan Probe has sometimes gone weeks without a fresh post, despite having “23 contributors”. Yet as Japan Probe’s popularity wanes, Havill has taken to posting more frequently on his “Eido Inoue” Google Plus site. Perhaps not surprisingly, the posts tend to promote the same issues and views as Japan Probe once did — especially the topic of journalists in Japan.
On Feb. 13, Havill couldn’t resist the urge to slam an old favorite, New York Times writer Martin Fackler, over a story about fax machines in Japan.
“Hey, Martin Fackler of the New York Times, +Chico Harlan from the Washington Post called! He wants his story from last year <http://goo.gl/GVBXR> back!
With all the news in North Korea and China going on, NYT thinks this is “All the News That’s Fit to Print”? It’s not exactly like we’re in a slow news cycle regarding Japan.
Chico, I got a scoop for you! You should do an article about Japanese disguising themselves as vending machines to avoid being a victim of crime! Oh wait…”
But this time, Havill got only one comment. It was from a guy name “Take Shima” brandishing Japan’s war-time flag.
links to Japan Probe and other attack articles: