Cybercrime and online libel

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Saturday, February 22, 2014


FREEDOM and responsibility are two sides of the same media coin. One exists because of the other. I therefore won’t express any vehement opposition to the decision of the Supreme Court to declare important provisions of the Cybercrime Law as constitutional.

The consensus is that the enactment of a measure that deals with cybercrimes is long overdue. There is a need to put order online as more and more Filipinos use the worldwide web for more serious undertakings. As of now, it’s still a violent and anarchic world out there online.

Critics of the Cybercrime Law are worried that it would curtail freedom of speech. But the truth is, there is even an excess of that freedom online. It is because of this excess that many people, including lawmakers and many Supreme Court justices, feel that the enactment of the cybercrime law and the provision on online libel is justified.

Many are angry with Sen. Vicente Sotto III, believing that he masterminded the insertion of the online libel provision in the Cybercrime Law out of spite.

Sotto received flak for plagiarizing parts of a speech he delivered in the Senate.

Netizens attacked him like angry bees and the assault at times turned malevolent.

I know how it feels to be the subject of vilification and slander by the abusive. When Gwendolyn Garcia was in her last term as governor, and especially when she was suspended in the latter part of 2012, I was battered online every time I wrote an article favorable to her.

I value my credibility like many journalists do, but some people who use the freedoms that the internet offered to them sought to destroy that credibility with their scurrilous attacks. They can do that because they are not made to account for their abusive ways.

This became even more objectionable in the aftermath of super typhoon Yolanda. While concerned government officials deserved the criticisms they received for the slow response to the devastation wrought by the weather disturbance, the attacks crossed the bounds of decency.

Worse, half-truths and outright lies were posted notably in social networking sites about the relief effort. Worse, questionable web sites dedicated to churning articles containing these half-truths and outright lies sprouted. Many people just didn’t bother checking and counter-checking claims.

Of course, the exercise of freedom of speech online partly helped in pushing the Aquino administration to straighten up its acts, but the abuse of that freedom must have become a spectacle for foreign governments and institutions and they must have cringed at the virulence.

That’s why I do not support calls for greater freedom online unless those who make them also push for greater responsibility in the exercise of that freedom. As a worker in traditional media, I am guided by our profession’s ethical standards and society’s norms. But many netizens are either not conscious of those standards and norms or simply don’t care.

The Cybercrime Law and online libel essentially tell netizens that there are limits to the exercise of the freedoms that many of them are now abusing. These should remind them that being responsible is twin to the exercise of the freedom of speech.

On this, I like what English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley said: “Freedom and order are not incompatible.”

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 22, 2014.

Opinion

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