Online libel: clarification

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Thursday, April 10, 2014


YESTERDAY, I wrote that while the Supreme Court declared the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 as constitutional, it struck down the provision on online libel. That was careless of me. Online libel remains a crime. What the High Tribunal in fact rejected was that part which held liable, for willfully abetting and aiding the commission of online libel, netizens who react to or comment on a defamatory statement online. My apologies.

The Supreme Court used the following illustration to explain its decision:

“In libel in the physical world, if Nestor places on the office bulletin board a small poster that says ‘Armand is a thief,’ he could certainly be charged with libel. If Roger, seeing the poster, writes on it, ‘I like this,’ that could not be libel since he did not author the poster. If Arthur, passing by and noticing the poster, writes on it, ‘Correct!,’ would that be libel? No, for he merely expresses agreement with the statements on the poster. He still is not its author. Besides, it is not clear if aiding or abetting libel in the physical world is a crime.

“But suppose Nestor posts the blog, ‘Armand is a thief!’ on a social networking site.

Would a reader and his Friends or Followers, availing themselves of any of the ‘Like,’ ‘Comment’ and ‘Share’ reactions, be guilty of aiding or abetting libel?”

The Court went on to say that those who pressed “Like,” “Comment” and “Share” are essentially knee-jerk sentiments of readers who may think little or haphazardly of their response to the original posting. Will they be liable for aiding or abetting?

Answering its own question, the Court noted the “inherent impossibility of joining hundreds or thousands of responding “Friends” or “Followers” in the criminal charge to be filed in court.” It then asked, “Who will make a choice as to who should go to jail for the outbreak of the challenged posting?”

While agreeing that libel in cyberspace can stain a person’s image with just one click of the mouse, the Court said that in protecting a person’s reputation and peace of mind, the government “cannot adopt means that will unnecessarily and broadly sweep, invading the area of protected freedoms.”

***

National women’s marathon champion Mary Joy Tabal is back from France where she placed 17th in the Paris Marathon last Sunday.

I bumped into Joy yesterday morning at the Cebu City Sports where she trains regularly when she is not competing elsewhere. She was still bubbling with excitement and for good reason because 17th place isn’t something to sneeze at when you consider that she was competing against 20,000 other runners from all over the world.

Joy said she could have done better had she not literally frozen in the cold Paris weather. It all started when she was negotiating the last half of the 42-kilometer course, she said. Her legs became numb and the lack of sensation eventually spread up to her back so that by the time she crossed the finish line, she was practically dragging herself. Others would have quit under the same circumstances but not the spunky Joy.

Joy arrived in Paris only a couple of days before the race and therefore had no time to acclimatize. But she offered no excuses. She also said she had no regrets. Seeing her Europe-based countrymen waving the Philippine flag as she passed by them was a very happy experience for the diminutive Cebuana.

(frank.otherside@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 11, 2014.

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