A Cybercrime Law has recently been enacted in the Philippines that contains a last-minute and poorly thought out internet libel clause, specifically targeting social media use. Senator Sotto inserted this libel clause with the intention to make people accountable for the content they produce and interact with online (but his intentions are questionable in light of the online plagiarism issue that hounds him), but he and the others who voted for it did so without really understanding the nature of the Internet. No congressional public hearing was ever conducted for this clause. [Update 24 Sept.: Raissa Robles replies to Sotto's claims that he wasn't the lawmaker who inserted the libel clause. ]
In his analysis of the Cybercrime Law, Lawyer and Professor Harry Roque explains how the criminalisation of online libel infringes on freedom of expression, and “…instead of heeding the UN’s call to review its existing libel law, Congress and PNoy [President Noynoy Aquino] appeared to have slammed the body by enacting an even more draconian legislation against cyber libel.”
“By criminalizing Internet libel, government expanded the infringement of freedom of expression even to the realm that has enabled us to give life to the principle of a free market place of ideas – the Internet.”
“We will see the PNoy administration in court on this one. And we will prevail. For unlike other laws that enjoy the presumption of regularity, this Cybercrime law, insofar as it infringes on freedom of expression, will come to court with a very heavy presumption of unconstitutionality.
There can be nothing sadder than suing the son of icons of democracy for infringement of a cherished right.”
This issue reminded me of lawyer and activist Larry Lessig’s presentation on TED where he discussed how copyright chokes creativity. His analysis on copyright and creativity resonates strongly with the Philippine case, specifically the point on criminalising internet libel which can be used to silence the voice a generation that no longer can be silenced.
“It is technology that has made them different, and as we see what this technology can do, we need to recognize you can’t kill the instinct the technology produces. We can only criminalize it. We can’t stop our kids from using it. We can only drive it underground. We can’t make our kids passive again. We can only make them, quote, “pirates.” And is that good? We live in this weird time. It’s kind of age of prohibitions, where in many areas of our life, we live life constantly against the law. Ordinary people live life against the law, and that’s what I — we are doing to our kids. They live life knowing they live it against the law. That realization is extraordinarily corrosive, extraordinarily corrupting. And in a democracy, we ought to be able to do better. Do better, at least for them, if not for opening for business.
Defying the internet libel clause is neither a vote for irresponsible publication nor a license for defamation. It may make people double-check their facts first before publishing, but it will harm freedom of speech more by forcing online (and offline) behaviour to change from one of critical (and creative) opinion-making to that of subservience. It is a blow to e-democracy. It will eventually impact the way we share, remix and mash-up content that represent our stand on issues — the stuff that makes the social Net the perfect breeding ground for hybrid content, diversity, and satire — all powerful tools for protest and counter-culture (whichever side you are on).
Some helpful references and opinions on the concept of Internet libel:
Lessons 32-39: http://www.lessig.org/content/articles/works/cyberlessons/index.html
Why PNoy should veto the National Cybercrime Bill (Updated) – http://www.propinoy.net/2012/01/30/why-pnoy-should-veto-the-national-cybercrime-bill/
Some key differences between traditional and online libel: https://www.facebook.com/notes/ruben-canlas-jr/thoughts-on-online-libel/10151161525612480