Internet libel threatens Twitter, Facebook users: lawyer

by Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 17 2012 06:58 PM | Updated as of Sep 18 2012 04:35 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The newly approved Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 threatens users of social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook, a lawyer said Monday.

Atty. Argee Guevarra said the law, which has been approved by Congress and signed by President Benigno Aquino is anti-democratic, goes against the freedom of expression, and unconstitutional.

He believes it curtails the Constitutional provision of freedom of expression.

Section 4-C(4) of the law, Republic Act No. 10175, declares that online libel is now considered a cybercrime that can be punished under the Revised Penal Code.

Guevarra said it could "kill" social media use in the country.

"Sa mga gumagamit ng Facebook at Twitter, itoy kapangyarihan ng maliliit na mamamayan na hindi kayang magbayad ng espasyo sa media, itong libre ang gustong sugpuin ng cybercrime law" he said.

"Para sa demokratikong pwersa, hindi nga ito (libel) kinokonsider na krimen. Ang mga pahayag sa Internet, maari na ngayong usigin at hulihin. This is a step backward to democracy," he said.

Guevarra was sued by cosmetic surgeon Dr. Vicki Belo for alleged "slanderous" comments on the lawyer's Facebook account in 2009.

However, the case was dismissed by Antipolo Regional Trial Court Judge Mary Josephine Lazaro, who said Internet libel cannot be prosecuted because of jurisdictional constraints.

The world's first known Facebook defamation suit was filed by British businessman Matthew Firsht against former school friend Grant Raphael in 2008.

Through a Facebook page called "Has Matthew Firsht lied to you?", Raphael made false and defamatory claims about Firsht.

He won the case and was given a total of 22,000 pounds for damage and breach of privacy.

Another example is the 2009 case of Indonesian Prita Mulyasari, who complained about poor service in Omni International Hospital via Facebook and e-mail.

Omni sued Mulyasari for Internet libel, and the latter spent 21 days in prison.

This caused netizens to set up a Facebook page for her release, which eventually led to the dismissal of libel cases filed against Mulyasari.

Guevarra said he only disagrees with the inclusion of libel as one of the offenses under the Cybercrime Prevention Act.

He agrees that other crimes such as hacking, identity theft, spamming, phishing, denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, malware, child pornography, cybersex and cyber prostitution, are punishable by law.

Guevarra says he is contemplating on filing a petition before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the inclusion of libel in the new law.