MANILA, Philippines – You have been informed: Cyberbullying victim Christopher Lao is glad that Congress passed Republic Act (RA) No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
Lao became the target of online ire after a TV news report showed him blaming other people when he drove his car into a flood last August 2011. His phrase “I should have been informed” was mocked and his name was a trending topic on Twitter.
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility later said Lao had become a victim of social media excess because of the online abuse heaped on him.
Speaking before the recent Social Good Summit, Lao said his ordeal last year was no laughing matter. “I am not in the mood to patronize anyone because you have to know the real deal,” he said in his speech, which was posted on YouTube.
In his speech, Lao said online abuse could damage reputations and cause emotional distress to victims.
He said that maligning someone online is more effective than publishing it in a newspaper because it gives the accusation “presence and permanence.” He said the rising number of Facebook and Twitter users in the country allows information and abuse to spread more widely.
Lao said the Internet also fosters a lack of accountability among users.
“You can just malign somebody with impunity without fear of being caught because you can do so without revealing your identity,” he said.
“The goal of maligning somebody is to shame somebody, correct? That’s the goal of bullying or libel…Now you can just use Photoshop, make someone look stupid and post it online,” he added.
The horrors of cyberbullying
In his speech, Lao also opened up about his own painful experience with cyberbullying last year and how it made him fall into alcohol abuse and illness.
“You see guys I was like you. I didn’t come from a very wealthy family. I didn’t have the leverage of a powerful name so I had to build everything from scratch and I found my niche. I did well in school, got into a prestigious university and got into a prestigious law school and so now I am a lawyer,” he said.
“The problem was - I built my whole life practically around my reputation and when that was taken away from me overnight, you could just imagine the horror I went through. I lost my identity. I abused alcohol. I sought professional help. I saw a shrink who prescribed medicines of course so I incurred expenses. Until now, I am still under medication.’
“I felt crushed. My experience proves a close connection between your mind and your body. My body wasn’t physically attacked but the signals that my body got from my mind were the same, as if I had been physically mauled by thousands of people. I bled profusely. I couldn’t believe that phenomenon. My doctors explained it was due to inexplicable stress. My blood vessels erupted because of stress. Bakit? Binasa ko lahat eh. Meron akong title: Pambansang Bobo ng Pilipinas. Wow, thank you.”
Lao said he remembered one particular online phrase that said he should be peppered with insults “until he finally commits suicide.”
He said the stress got so bad that he rejected all external stimuli including food and water.
“I didn’t crave for food and water. I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t thirsty. It was such a strange thing. For days, I was like a monster,” he said.
Lao backs Anti-Cybercrime Act
In his speech, Lao said he is glad that the Philippines has taken the first step to battle the “highly evolved demon” of social media abuse by passing RA10175.
“In levying a much heavier penalty on cyber libel, the State therefore recognizes fundamental differences between cyber libel and its counterpart in the penal books. Not only that, the State has a heavy interest in seeing this bill through because this demon knows no age. It doesn’t choose between young and old and therefore vulnerable to these attacks are our youth,” he said.
“In enacting this law, our State was just fulfilling its constitutional mandate to protect and ensure the wellbeing of the youth who are [the] foundation of our nation. If it were otherwise, we would have a society filled with disempowered youth; people who would settle for less, for mediocrity, because all their lives they are going to be made to believe they are not worth anything more,” he added.
Lao said lack of an anti-cybercrime law could lead to a society filled with criminals because experts agree that cyberbullied individuals, like himself, have a huge probability to become criminals.
“Bakit? Kasi galit yung tao. Ganun kaya ako nung na-bully ako. I was really, really raging mad. I wanted to get back at everybody but ganun yun sa umpisa. Natural process yun. Hindi ako masama,” he said.
Lao said there have been cases of young people who commit suicide because of cyberbullying. He cited the suicides of Megan Meier and Ryan Halligan in the US, which were later used to craft legislation against cyberbullying.
In the Philippines, he pointed to the case of Raymond Malinay-Lopez who was also a victim of cyberbullying after a person posted a fake Facebook account about him allegedly having HIV/AIDS.
Use social media for good
Lao made no apologies for his revelations during the summit. He also made an appeal for people to use social media responsibly.
“I want you to look at me not as a normal person anymore but as somebody who is really defective. I am like a deformed person brought about by attacks but I am deformed from within, on the inside. That is how you should look at me and victims who for example are in a sense have been ravaged. Victims who have survived murders have every right, we have every right to be full of ourselves because that’s our way of surviving. I will have my lifetime devoted to recuperation and healing. I am not well. When I ‘deposit’, everything is blood. I was on the verge of committing ‘bully-cide.’”
“The features that make social media very effective in committing wrongdoings are the same features that make social media very effective in doing good. I hope we can just focus on the latter and lobby for more safeguards to be in place to curb the former.”