Internet libel

Why Internet libel exists on the MCPIF

There is an ongoing debate on rights and freedom of speech and expression in the Internet age. For the Philippines, it began with the CyberCrime Prevention Act of 2012, with the inclusion of Online Libel provisions. It continued with the petitions before the Supreme Court. It goes on today with Nancy Binay’s e-violence bill, and the Santiago-Conjungco Magna Carta on Philippine Internet Freedom (MCPIF).

The President’s argument in the inclusion of online libel in the Cybercrime Prevention Act is sound. We have rights, but it shouldn’t be abused. That’s not what’s wrong with the Cybercrime law. What’s wrong about it is how it goes about it.

The same tone exists with Nancy Binay’s e-violence bill. It seeks to prevent electronic attacks. The Binay argument is based on what the senator experienced during the campaign. Never mind that the bill she wishes to file doesn’t actually protect her. Never mind that its inclusion into the Violence Against Women and Children, muddles VAWC. Never mind that e-violence goes about solving the purported protection for women, in the same way the cybercrime law does. To put it simply, a misnomer.

Women versus Men Facebook

A meme, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture”. A meme is a shortening of the Greek word, mimeme, and the word meme was first coined by Richard Dawkins. And an Internet meme is of course speech, and expression spreading from social networks, in email, as hashtags, video, photos, and so on. Even as viral marketing. It was meant to be shared. Meant to be viewed. Memes have been in existence since the dawn of the Internet.

Internet meme in the political context has taken over what political cartoons used to be. Public figures and public personas are the favorite targets of meme. President Aquino is a target. And his successor would be too. Just ask many Internet sites, and Facebook pages that love to attack the president.

Sometimes the meme is totally baseless, intellectually dishonest and at times, propaganda and opinion. The deputy press secretary, Abigail Valte, for example has been a victim of meme attacks. Her face, embedded with words she didn’t actually say. Perhaps, it is the cognitive bias built by an echo chamber that exist only to validate their world view.

During the 2013 Senatorial campaign, Nancy Binay has been a victim of memes. A favorite target— partly because she refused to engaged the online world, and partly because the online community is hardly her demographic. And so, apparently her ego bruised by the recent campaign.

President Aquino, Nancy Binay and Abigail Valte share the same problem. They are publicly attacked. Now, it can be argued that all three are public figures. Do they “deserve” it? Whether the attacks had basis or not, is beside the point. Every public figure should be ready to have their reputations and image disfigured because we live in a democracy that doesn’t place unnecessary demand of intelligence to be heard. So the bar of libel and the bar of tolerance ought to be set higher than the ordinary citizen. It can be argued that as public officials ought to have thicker hides. it can also— and rightly argued— that sometimes public opinion can take it a bit far, and below the belt.

Would an amendment on Violence against women help protect Deputy Press Secretary Valte or Senator Nancy Binay? The quick answer is: No because the matter is not a domestic issue because the Violence against women and children is focused on domestic violence so the proposed e-violence bill doesn’t work for them. What’s more, the leveling of playing field that is the Internet doesn’t give any sex more power or less power on the Internet. While it is true, that women are far more easy targets in the real world, on a purely statistic basis, “there are 47% male users and 53% female Facebook users in Philippines, compared to 49% and 51% in United Kingdom and 49% and 51% in France“.

On the one hand, the President, Atty. Valte and Senator Binay in a democracy, while public figures ought to have some protection from below the belt attacks. Should this be the case or by the very nature of their position, having the same “rights”, would be unduly be biased to them? Certainly, like the common person they have the right to block, report as spam, unfollow, and unfriend. Ordinary people have them when Facebook wars happen; when Twitter clashes occur. There are blocks, report as spam, and unfollows and unfriending, for quick resolution. But even in a free press that our democracy affords, we do have libel to set the rules.

Shouldn’t that be some sort of basis?

What happens then?

That said, let us bring the discussion down to earth. What happens then to the likes of a school kid, being cyberbullied? What happens when kids use their freedom of speech to raise an opinion against their school or teacher? What happens if those attacks are nothing more than baseless, or malicious? Shouldn’t there be a mechanism for relief? For justice?

That was the whole argument for libel in the cybercrime law. How does one protect one’s self from attack. Of course it forgets that this must be balanced with the right of the other party to speak and right to freedom of expression. So there is that fragile balancing act. It goes back to the concept of justice.

Who decides?

Chris Lao argues he was a victim of cyberbullying. Ridiculed and embarrassed for the whole world to see. It can be argued, he got what he deserved. It can be argued that that in itself is too much. If I ridiculed him on Facebook, does he have a right to have it deleted. Who has that right? Facebook? Me? If either Facebook or I refuse to do so on the ground that it violates my freedom of speech, and expression, who does Lao turn to? The courts? If the barrier for justice is too high— how can one in Chris Lao’s position expect justice? Is it the DOJ who should do this? The local barangay? Shouldn’t questions on justice be settled by the court?

Hitler is constantly being ridiculed on the Internet. It is one of the world’s more famous meme. Is it LOL, or cyberbullying?

When is a meme become cyberbullying? When does a meme become hate speech? When is it libel?

MCPIF on freedom of expression and speech

Section 52 of the proposed Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom is on Internet libel, Hate speech, Child Pornography, and others.

The MCPIF defines Internet libel as “a public and malicious expression tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead, made on the Internet or on public networks.” It says that “Malice as an essential element of internet libel. – Internet libel shall not lie if malice or intent to injure is not present.” It goes on to say that there should be positive identification of the subject.

What’s more, Section 52 makes sure that truth is a defense (it is presently not a defense in the Philippines). “Internet libel shall not lie if the content of the expression is proven to be true, or if the expression is made on the basis of published reports presumed to be true, or if the content is intended to be humorous or satirical in nature, except if the content has been adjudged as unlawful or offensive in nature in accordance with existing jurisprudence.”

This pretty much covers people who are attacked by an ex, or a spouse on the Internet. You can have protection.

Furthermore, the MCPIF talks about Internet hate speech. the MCPIF defines hate speech as “a public, and malicious expression calling for the commission of illegal acts on an entire class of persons, a reasonably broad section thereof, or a person belonging to such a class, based on gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, or affiliation, political belief or affiliation, ethnic or regional affiliation, citizenship, or nationality made on the Internet or on public networks.”

So calling for the death of “all gays”, is a crime. Calling to beat up Muslims is a crime. Calling for the kidnapping of Catholics is a crime.

Section 52 is even more comprehensive in attacking child pornography, prostitution and trafficking on the Internet. It calls for an amendment of the existing Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009 to reflect the times.

The President is on record saying that freedom and responsibility are important in our society. Which was why he backed the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Interaksyon quotes the President: “I do not agree that the provision on online libel should be removed. Whatever the format is, if it is libelous, then there should be some form of redress available to the victims.”

Joe America got it right. The MCPIF is about “freedom and responsibility first before control and restriction”.

The MCPIF includes Internet libel, but balanced on such “archaic ideas” like Freedom of Speech, and Freedom of Expression. If a victim comes out saying, he needs a redress of grievances there are fair avenues for him or her to take on. Section 52 isn’t overreaching. It isn’t about control and repression. It is about Fairness and Equality. So Internet libel can be done for all. This is just one of the reasons why the MCPIF starts off with Rights and that antiquated piece of paper called the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as basis. It is indeed high time we return the pendulum towards freedom and responsibility first, before control and restriction.