Photo/IllutrationA Tokyo woman holds a news conference on Aug. 23 in which she talks about her experience as being the target of false rumors about a road rage incident. (Takuya Isayama)

A Tokyo resident is considering legal action against people who posted what she called vicious and unfounded rumors over the Internet linking her with a road rage suspect and target of a nationwide manhunt.

The woman held a news conference in Tokyo on Aug. 23 in which she said she awoke in a "state of panic" one morning after she discovered her name and photo plastered over the Internet and claiming she was the passenger in a car driven by a male who slugged a younger motorist in a road rage incident.

"I have not yet returned to a normal mental state," the woman said.

She explained that she was planning to file a lawsuit to make people think twice about the ramifications that can arise from unthinkingly retweeting unsubstantiated information.

The road rage incident occurred on the Joban Expressway in Moriya, Ibaraki Prefecture, on Aug. 10.

Fumio Miyazaki, 43, fled from the scene but was arrested on Aug. 18 in Osaka on suspicion of assaulting a 24-year-old company employee by forcing him to stop by pulling in front of the man's car and braking to an emergency halt. After Miyazaki's arrest, police also arrested his girlfriend, Natsuko Kimoto, 51, on suspicion of harboring a criminal. Media reports showed Kimoto photographing the assault scene on her mobile phone.

Miyazaki was placed on the wanted list by police on Aug. 16, but at that time Kimoto's identity was not divulged.

However, according to the lawyer for the Tokyo woman, tweets began appearing from early Aug. 17 that included her name and Instagram account. Other posts called on the woman to turn herself in to police.

After the woman learned of the posts, she fired up her Facebook account to flatly deny them. But that did not stop Internet traffic as her Instagram account was inundated with posts that condemned her.

The woman, who operates her own business, said her company received 280 phone calls on Aug. 17 alone chastising her for what she supposedly did.

Miyazaki and Kimoto were arrested the following day.

The woman's lawyer explained there was only a tenuous link between the woman and Miyazaki, and that lay in the fact that Miyazaki was a follower on the woman's Instagram account. He said those who posted retweets were primarily responsible for spreading rumors to smear his client's reputation.

The lawyer said Twitter would be approached to provide information about those who posted the tweets and retweets as a first step toward seeking compensation. A criminal complaint for alleged defamation of character is also being considered, the lawyer said.

A 19-year-old university student who posted one of the tweets saying the woman was a passenger in Miyazaki's car spoke about why he did so in a phone interview with The Asahi Shimbun.

Saying road rage incidents were a topic of concern since he himself drove, the man said, "I felt a sense of euphoria at identifying the suspect in an unforgivable incident before any of the major media organizations."

As to why he named the woman, the student said he referred to another tweet that claimed the woman appeared to be similar to the individual in Miyazaki's car. The student added he became angry when the woman posted the denial on Facebook because he had become convinced she was the passenger.

But the student said he became fearful over what he had done after reports emerged of Kimoto's arrest.

Shinichiro Okamoto, a professor of social psychology at Aichi Gakuin University, explained the mentality among many people who use social networking sites.

He said unfounded rumors tend to spread because those who post feel a certain sense of justice that the information they impart will be the first to inform the public of who a particular suspect may be.

"In the next stage, even though no confirmation is made of the information, the sheer volume of similar information leads people to believe it must be true," he said. "People should realize that posters can be identified and that there is the possibility of being held accountable."

(This article was written by Eri Niiya, Natsuki Edogawa and Masayoshi Hayashi.)