'Viral bashing, vigilante killings are similar'

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 27 2016 09:42 PM | Updated as of Jul 28 2016 12:14 AM

The lawless acts of self-styled "online vigilantes" and death squads are similar, according to one expert. ABS-CBN News file photo

MANILA – Nestor Punzalan has been heavily criticized online for allegedly shooting a biker in Manila early this week, but further investigation showed the man who was cursed, hated, and bashed on social media was innocent.

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Online bashing and vigilante killings are similar because of premature persecution of a person and the relative lack of public outcry against self-styled "vigilantes," according to a psychiatrist.

“It is internet vigilantism because the victim is prejudged, and the public takes justice into their own hands by publicly hanging the person despite the lack of information,” Life Change Recovery Center psychiatrist Randy Dellosa told ABS-CBN News.

“MOB MENTALITY”

Dellosa said Filipino netizens are prone to having "mob mentality" or the tendency to adapt beliefs and actions that are popular, viral or trending.

“It is a form of group-think or herd mentality wherein a person just agrees to whatever the majority says,” Dellosa said.

He said it is easier for people to express ill feelings towards others online due to the anonymity and distance the internet offers.

“Your identity can be masked online. A sense of distance, through the use of a computer, also gives people a sense of security as they feel that they will not face the consequences of their actions when done online.”

Dellosa noted that most victims of social media bashing and cyber bullying are traumatized. The victims often suffer from depression, anxiety, or psychosis, while those with severe cases become suicidal.

The psychiatrist said foul and offensive messages sent online should be blocked and deleted. Securing a support system from family and friends also help victims cope faster.

REGULATING SOCIAL MEDIA

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) admitted that the lack of rules on the use of social media is a problem.

“The internet and social media are empowering but some are not aware that you cannot just post information that’s unverified,” CMFR deputy director Luis Teodoro told ABS-CBN News.

But despite the rampant cases of cyber bullying, the CMFR believes that internet use should not be regulated by the government. 

“I don’t think government should intervene because that will be contrary to free expression, but I think people should regulate themselves,” Teodoro said.

He said one way to do that is to “teach young people on the intelligent and responsible use of the internet and social media” so that a “culture of accuracy and fairness in social media” will be the norm for Filipino netizens.

Although formal charges can be filed against online bashers for violating Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act, experts said it would be more simple if an internet user should first filter and double check his or her posts in public.

Dellosa and Teodoro agree that the regulation on the use of the internet should begin at home. They said it is important for parents to monitor their children’s internet use, and ensure that they “do not treat gadgets as babysitters and nannies”.

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