‘Part-timer terrorists’: what’s behind Japan’s social media trend of employees undermining businesses

<span>Part-timer terrorism has seen an employee at a pizza chain picking their nose and rubbing their finger on raw pizza dough. </span><span>Photograph: Monty Rakusen/Getty Images</span>
Part-timer terrorism has seen an employee at a pizza chain picking their nose and rubbing their finger on raw pizza dough. Photograph: Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

What is part-timer terrorism?

Japan’s media use the term to refer to bad behaviour by part-time employees – mostly at restaurants and convenience stores – some of whom land themselves in trouble by posting clips of their misdemeanours on social media.

Known as baito tero (a combination of arubaito – the Japanese rendering of the German word for “work” and a shortened version of the English word “terrorism”), the phenomenon differs from the “sushi terrorism” that hit the headlines last year after a series of food hygiene pranks at budget restaurants. In those cases, the culprits were customers, not employees.

Why is it making the news in Japan?

While part-timer terrorism entered the lexicon around a decade ago, a spate of incidents has generated another round of disapproving coverage in the Japanese media.

Related: Arrests made after wave of ‘sushi terrorism’ upends Japan’s restaurant industry

In the most egregious incident, an employee of the Domino’s Pizza chain appeared in a video clip posted on X, formerly Twitter, in which he picked his nose and then rubbed his finger on to raw pizza dough. That came soon after a man working part-time at a restaurant filmed himself squirting whipped cream meant for diners’ desserts into a co-worker’s mouth.

In a country that prides itself on the highest standards of hygiene – along with consumers who demand nothing less – Domino’s Pizza Japan moved quickly to reassure the public that all of the restaurant’s pizza dough, including the portion with the extra ingredient, had been thrown away.

“We would like to express our deepest apologies to our customers for any discomfort and inconvenience caused,” it added in a statement. “From now on, the entire company will do its utmost to prevent a recurrence and restore trust.”

Is there anything restaurants and stores can do to stop part-timer terrorism?

It is hard to imagine any measure that would deter social media users desperate for online infamy, but businesses are fighting back to protect their reputations and, crucially, prevent bad publicity from eating into their profits.

One insurance company began selling “reputation expense insurance” four years ago, according to the Mainichi Shimbun. The scheme assumes risks related to online posts, including part-timer terrorism and contaminated food and drink. The policy covers costs incurred after an incident, including legal advice and the removal of online content, the newspaper said. The insurance firm said the number of subscribers last December had risen 20% from a year earlier. Another insurer has seen policyholders number rise every year since it started offering the service in 2020, with about 20,000 as of the end of last year.

Action is also being taken against culprits. Some firms have sued for damages, while others are turning to the law, leading to the arrests of several people on suspicion of forcible obstruction of businesses. Those convicted face up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of ¥500,000 [£2,620].