Japan’s ‘Twitter killer’ is accused of luring suicidal victims via the app

A 29-year-old man has pleaded guilty to the murders of nine people back in 2017, which led to changes in the social media platform’s rules

A Japanese man named Takahiro Shiraishi, but dubbed the “Twitter killer” due to his method of finding and luring victims online, appeared in a Tokyo court last week, charged with killing nine people back in 2017. The 29-year-old pleaded guilty to all charges related to the killing of his victims, as well as opening up about how he allegedly sought out young women posting suicidal thoughts on social media.

In court, Shiraishi’s lawyers have argued that he should be given a reduced sentence due to the fact that the people he killed had expressed that they wanted to die. A reduced sentence would see him face up to seven years in prison, but if he is fully convicted it’s likely that he will face the death penalty.

As he awaits sentencing, which is expected to take place December 15, Dazed outlines what happened, the role Twitter plays, and what changes the platform made in the wake of the killings.

WHAT ARE THE CHARGES AGAINST SHIRAISHI?

Takahiro Shiraishi was caught back in October 2017, after one of his victims disappeared and her brother found a series of messages between the pair, sent via Twitter. Subsequently, the police found the body of the woman in a freezer in Shiraishi’s apartment, along with body parts of his other eight victims. When he appeared in a Tokyo court on Wednesday last week, Shiraishi said that the allegations against him “are all correct”.

Because most of Shiraishi’s victims had expressed suicidal thoughts on social media, his lawyers have argued that the murder charges should be reduced to “murder with consent”, which carries a prison sentence ranging from six months to seven years. However, Shiraishi himself told the local daily news outlet Mainichi Shimbun that he killed without consent, according to the BBC, stating: “There were bruises on the back of the victims’ heads. It means there was no consent and I did it so that they wouldn't resist.”

If he is charged for multiple murders, Shiraishi is likely to face the death penalty, which is usually carried out against serial murderers, as well as perpetrators of robbery-murders or rape-murders, in Japan.

HOW DID HE LURE HIS VICTIMS?

According to prosecutors, Shiraishi opened a Twitter account in March 2017 with murderous intent, “to contact women contemplating suicide, whom he saw as easy targets”. The Twitter account itself contained the words: “I want to help people who are really in pain. Please DM me anytime.” After luring victims, he told them that he could help them die, and in some cases told them that he would commit suicide alongside them.

He then invited them to his apartment in Zama, a city south of Tokyo, where he sexually assaulted, strangled, and dismembered them. “I killed them and did some work on the bodies in order to hide the evidence,” he told police, according to the Japanese national broadcaster NHK.

One of his female victims was only 15 years old, while his single male victim was killed after he confronted Shiraishi about the disappearance of his girlfriend.

WHAT IS THE RESPONSE?

While many in the country were shocked by the case, the effects have also prompted changes in Twitter policy, with CEO Jack Dorsey calling the case “very unfortunate, extremely sad” in an interview with NHK back in 2017, in which he said: “We need to take our responsibility, make sure that our tool is being used in positive and healthy ways.” 

Subsequently – and partly in response to the case – Twitter has made multiple amendments to its rules, stating users should not “promote or encourage suicide or self-harm”. However, Dorsey also added in the NHK interview that he hoped the social media platform could connect those having suicidal thoughts to someone who could help.

Japanese authorities have also taken steps to monitor and restrict sites where people post about suicide and self-harm.

Despite Twitter’s actions in the wake of the 2017 killings, the debate about social media’s responsibilities regarding violence and suicide continues, with TikTok recently attracting criticism for circulating a graphic suicide video. Earlier this year, a teenager was also accused of killing his neighbour for TikTok fame.