Hysterics around the enactment and implementation of the Philippines’ Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act 10175) continue to sweep the country’s community of social media “activists”. The new law itself is just another example of Filipinos’ renowned jeepney approach to facing its challenges — another Pinoy-style pwede-na-yan solution (in my colleague Mike Portes’s words) that fails in its bid to get on top of a complex beast. Still the law, being as described, is likely to also be a fail when it comes to enforcement…
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What may be construed as perpetrators of “online libel” are often mere messengers.
Content that we come across online that may be interpreted as defamatory or “libelous” is often removed X times from its original source. Content that is yet to be proven to be “libelous” can come in the form that is either cut-and-pasted from other sources, forwarded in email messages, be citations from sources closer (say, by X-i degrees) to the original source, and/or mere insinuations.
As I cited in a previous article, what most journalists and Web writers do most often is merely cite allegations articulated in a third source â€” as in when we quote a news report where said allegation is made â€” which, itself, is often a quote or statement from an identified source. This puts most writers in a position at least twice removed from the commission of an act that may be construed as libelous.
States and governments acting alone in implementing legal measures against “cybercrime” mount pointless efforts.
Jurisdiction issues alone already make mounting a legal case against online defamation an exceedingly complex project. The RA 10175 merely jumps off on the Philippines’ arcane libel law and offers, at best, a vague framework for prosecuting offenses to it perpetrated online. Yet, “cybercrime” by nature is almost always an international enterprise. Assets and services applied to the perpetration of cybercrime — or, for that matter, the undertaking of just about any transaction or activity performed over the Internet — transcend borders and jurisdictions.
Governments would have to jointly develop, enter into, and agree on international conventions that, by their very nature, require some degree of compromise in inidivdual states’ definition of key concepts such as obscenity, privacy and, of course, defamation among others for the sake of standardisation. Considering too the economic climate the world finds itself in, and how business are inclined to see “over-regulation” of internet activity as detrimental to much-needed vitality in commerce today, it is unlikely that there will be much political will to mount such an effort on the required scale.
A sensible degree of self-regulation is already in place amongst digital content producers.
This is evident in the manner with which Web publishers and the community of commentators that surround them have been successful at calling out and attracting punitive action upon instances of plagiarism, offensive behaviour, and bullying not just online but in the real world. The examples of online “activism” against Senator Tito Sotto‘s alleged plagiarism, Robert Carabuena’s assault on a traffic officer, and the recent gun-pointing incident allegedly perpetrated by Allan Bantiles, all of which involve real-world criminal acts or acts against sensible community standards demonstrate the swiftness of “justice” online.
Furthermore, Web producers worth their salt built enduring reputations purely upon the rare skills they apply navigating the self-regulation that has existed on the Web long before the word “cybercrime” even existed. This is evident in how scammers, posers, paid hacks, attention whores, and no-substance emo wannabes after enjoying their 15 minutes of fame (in Web-years) eventually lose their fragrance to the broader community of content consumers. Just as there is no grand designer that regulated the evolution of complex life and its wondrous variety, real and consistent Web publishing rock stars rose to prominence not on the back of state regulation but by slugging it out in the Darwinian landscape of Web self-regulation.
Ironically, the success and continued effectiveness of this self-regulation hinges on more freedom and less regulation across domains within the Web. Liars, cheats, plagiarists, and propagandists do not prosper because a free exchange of ideas applies selection pressures over the Net landscape that reward quality and extinguish deception.
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Interestingly, the British can potentially be looked to as a model for what looks to be shaping into a more intelligent quest for the Holy Grail of Net regulation. At the heart of the British government’s designs for a sensible Web regulation regime is a give-and-take approach…
(1) Placing greater responsibility on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to proactively identify “trolls” and spare victims the need to shoulder costly effort to mount legal action against them;
(2) Clear guidelines and procedures will be put in place to guide Web publishers in their roles as community members in the prevention of online defamation; and,
(3) Offering better protection to Web publishers against libel in exchange for their cooperation in identifying offending parties who make use of their assets (presumably part of the guidelines and procedures framework spelt out above in Item 2).
While ISPs and other service providers in the United Kingdom have tentatively welcomed the concepts underlying the bill, the biggest criticism it has so far received from Web publishers there was around perceptions that online anonymity may be targetted if the new laws are passed. Justine Roberts, the co-founder of popular parenting website Mumsnet warns that “the defamation bill may financially benefit website operators but could undermine the culture of the web”. Furthermore…
Roberts cautioned against blanket laws that might outlaw anonymity online. “No one wants to protect the identity of nasty internet trolls and there is much to be welcomed in the defamation bill around reducing complexity and recognising that many websites are not publishers in the traditional sense, but it’s important that we don’t completely devalue and disallow anonymity online,” she said.
“The ability to both ask and advise anonymously is at the very core of the support Mumsnet provides. Take a scenario of someone dealing with an abusive relationship, they are often concerned about sharing their experiences for fear of being identified in real life and the potential repercussions for family and safety. It would not be in the public, or personal, interest if a woman being abused by her husband felt she could not seek help confidentially.
Coming back to the Philippines, various groups are currently filing complaints over the “unconstitutional” nature of the new Anti-Cybercrime Law under RA 10175 and even mounting cyber-attacks against key government websites in protest against said law.
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