Cyber Libel: Netizens, Fears and Freedom

September 29, 2015

After 2 years of online battles against the controversial Cybercrime Act, here is the Supreme Court announcing most of its provisions as constitutional, including the cyber libel. Just imagine yourself being sued or jailed because you shared your opinion through a post you made on your blog which offended a politician, a prominent someone or just someone you know. An opinionated Facebook post, a tweet or a blog post can now make you a criminal. Yes, I know how you feel. More than anything, it is frustrating! Installation of Fear I was thinking about the possible implications of the Cyber Libel clause in the Cybercrime Prevention Act. First, it makes my fingers shake in fear. Every time we write something about someone, we always have to think about the possible future implications of our blog entry. No matter how brave we are; no matter how careful we are, we always have that fear at the back of our minds. This is what I think is the worst effect of Cyber Libel. It instills fear to content producers. Eventually, it will shape a cyber world where everyone just agrees to anything. One day, there’ll be no more criticisms, no more more opposing views. Not because there’s nothing to criticize, but because there’s too much fear. We will soon produce a silent and passive generation living in fear. We will lose critical writers and commenters. We will lose thinking minds. LAPTOPThe Content Creators In the traditional media, professional journalists, writers, columnists and publishers are considered content creators. These professional media practitioners know libel more than anything else. They may forget their partner’s name, but never the conditions of libel. In college, communications students endure sleepless nights just so they could understand what libel is. Understanding the in’s and out’s of libel is complicated. It’s such a complex concept that even journalists can’t master, yet. What more for the ordinary Filipino netizens who just want to share their ideas, thoughts and opinions? These people doesn’t know the techniques to avoid libel suits. Ordinary netizens are not aware of the legal and politically correct terms to use. Considering online libel entails extensive education to the general public. A simple “be careful” notice won’t do it. Being careful is never synonymous to being ‘safe’. You can always be careful. But you can only be safe when you know how to avoid the hazards.


Libel is Not A Criminal Offense There are now 10 countries without defamation laws; over 14 countries initiating to decriminalize libel including France, Croatia among others. 33 states in the USA had already decriminalize libel. United Nations has already pushed its campaign to decriminalize libel. UN has already declared that the Philippines’ libel law is incompatible with the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which PH is a signatory of. The movement to decriminalize libel is gaining global momentum, and it is just about time that we join. It is time that we consider libel as a civil offense instead of a criminal offense. [divider]

The Bottomline

Though I feel frustrated for the the Senate’s and SC’s consideration of Cyber Libel, we must understand that all these impressions came from us too, the netizens. Maybe at some point we are becoming reckless content creators; maybe at some given time, we abuse the digital media; maybe in some circumstances, we ruined someone’s life due to the contents we put on our online community. As we shout to abolish libel, hopefully we would also know our limitations and boundaries. Let us do self-regulation. Let’s screen and filter the things we post online. Though we have the freedom to express ourselves, we always have to remember, freedom is not absolute. Not because you can, you must.  To the netizens, let us keep our eyes and ears open. Let us continue to write things that matter. In writing the truth, no one shall ever fear.

“Young players need freedom of expression to develop as creative players… they should be encouraged to try skills without fear of failure.” – Arsene Wenger

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