SILENCE is consent.
The recent civil case filed by alternative media against companies accused of launching cyber-attacks on their websites is setting a precedent as the first legal action taken by digital journalists to resist the cyber-impunity that attempts to stifle press freedom and dissent.
Last March 29, alternative media “Bulatlat,” “Kodao Productions,” “Pinoy Weekly” and “Altermidya” filed a civil complaint at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, charging the IP Converge Data Services Inc. and the Suniway Group of Companies for conducting since December 2018 Distributed Denial of Service Attacks (DDos), which has the effect of “flooding the server of a website with traffic,” reported the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR).
The same CMFR report quoted “Altermidya” national coordinator Rhea Padilla as saying that the case is the “first civil complaint (taken) against cyber-attackers.”
The media advocacy group quoted the “Pinoy Weekly” statement pointing out that the civil complaint “should serve as a warning to these nefarious forces (including the Duterte regime’s troll army and cyber attackers) to desist in their actions that curtail our fundamental freedoms because we will fight back.”
“Do not feed the trolls” has been a common stance taken by journalists, Netizens, and other members of civil society whose articles, blog posts, and websites have been hit by reactions expressing abuse and incivility, with many harassing and threatening bodily harm, rape and violence against those expressing views contrary to those of the trolls or their employers.
Ignoring the trolls means denying them a reaction, which, in terms of online engagement, counters the continued circulation of the trolls’ activity. A more assertive approach has been to report a post or Netizen as abusive and request the website or social media administrator to take down the post or block the Netizen.
On the other hand, online civility often achieves its purpose of intimidating persons from expressing their sentiments and raising thoughtful, rational discussion and building of consensus on matters of interest to persons or the public. Trauma from online incivility has driven many Netizens to avoid online discourse or limit their participation to closed groups, which select members and limit access only to them.
In light of the generally defensive steps taken by civil society to safeguard their rights to freedom of expression and participation in open and rational discourse, the alternative media filing the civil suit against the two firms charged for instigating cyber-attacks performed a public service, specially given the lack of will and action taken by the government to implement the law on cyber-crimes.
According to an article posted on www.qurium.org, the National Computer Emergency Response Team of the Philippines (CERT-PH), which is mandated to handle cyber-crimes, had shown “little interest” in the case despite the concerned parties’ initiation of “multiple attempts to initiate an investigation based on the forensics provided by Qurium.”
The CMFR report mentioned that the alternative media outfits were assisted by their Swedish partner Qurium Media Foundation, which conducted the forensic study, and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) in filing the complaint. Qurium is a founding member of CiviCERT, a CERT for civil society.
The Qurium traced the Philippine attacker as P4p3r, who was “so certain of his impunity that he did not go to the dark web to find a solution” for his employer’s order to take down the websites of independent media, human rights organizations, political parties and journalists’ associations, which were critical of the Duterte administration.
Civil society acted decisively to protect what is essential for democracy: freedom of expression to monitor and hold the powerful accountable to the public.