On Continuous Publication, Updating Articles and SEO

In February 2019, the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation arrested the CEO of Rappler, Maria Ressa, over a cyber-libel case filed against her by businessman Wilfredo Keng. Ressa’s camp argued that the case is was invalid due to the fact that the alleged article that caused the suit was published months before RA 10175 Anti-Cybercrime Law has been put into effect. NBI initially agreed but later found a caveat to push the case: the article was “Updated” two years after it was originally posted on Rapppler’s website, in 2014.

Rappler then counter-argued that the prescription period of one year for filing a libel case has lapsed.

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NBI presented several rebuttals: 1) that cyber-libel has a longer prescription period of more than one year; 2) that the article is in a state of “continuous publication” due to Rappler being an internet-only news outlet, and thus every time the article is loaded on a browser, it technically issues a brand new copy; 3) the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) of Rappler which keeps its pages on top of search engines’ search results is also a form of continuous publication.

This article is a closer look at the reasons given by the law enforcers for Ressa’s arrest.

1. What is an “Updated Article”?

The article of Rappler was first published in 2012, but later updated in 2014. The key issue here is that in 2012, it was exempted from cyber-libel due to RA 10175 being a non-retroactive law. But then the article was updated in 2014, when the law was already in effect. Ressa claimed that the update was a “mere typographical correction of a single letter that has not been capitalized in the original.” Yet, if we look at the nature of how an update to articles was made, it does not matter if the update changes only a letter or the entire article.

The process of publishing an article online requires the entire text to be saved in a database. A database is where all the data is being saved, composed of tables and cells. A common interface for article publication online presents a single textbox for the entire article, thus the article is saved on a single cell in the table.

Now, what we call an “UPDATE” to a cell record in a database is technically a combination of DELETE and SAVE function simultaneously. This means, an updated article is indeed a brand new published article, as the original one is basically DELETED.

Updated articles online usually do not retain the original version/s for economic purposes. An exception to this is Facebook, which keeps all previous versions of a post in their Edit History. Rappler notably do not show copies of the original articles which means previous versions of their articles are deleted, the updated version the ONLY copy published. The dates of the original publication and the update are just that: dates. The dates are the only data kept in database.

The bottom line here is that Rappler re-published the Keng article in 2014, two years after RA 10175 is already a law. Whatever excuse Ressa comes up for updating the article is inconsequential because an updated article is a re-published article. Ressa could have got a better defense if, instead of deleting and replacing the original, they just issued an erratum below the original article, pointing to the erratic text, like how traditional media do.

2. Continuous Publication

Continuous publication is an interesting subject, especially when it comes to Rappler’s nature as an internet-only news outlet. To make sense of this, let us look at the nature of how Rappler’s articles are served: the same as any page of any website. That is, one load of an article is a unique copy of an HTML document, which can be saved AND PRINTED—which was one of the original functions of the WEB. Therefore, one page load or reload is considered a preparation to print the page, and it counts an instance of a published document. This makes a extra sense in web development where bandwidths are metered every time a page is requested by a visitor. One click to an article is considered a hit: a request from Rappler’s servers to “SERVE and PUBLISH A COPY OF THE ARTICLE” for that specific device trying to load the page.

If the article has already been deleted on the database, it could no longer be considered published and each request would return a 404 (file not found) response. This is not the case with the Keng article. Rappler still serves the article as of February 2019. Rappler still earns from ads on that page. Basically, Rappler continuously publishes the article for profit.

The continuous publication, therefore, makes the date of the publication of the original article and the updated article insignificant as the prescription period, even if it is just one year, is being RESET every time one loads the article on their device. And in turn, they continually damage Mr. Keng’s reputation while Rappler earns more revenue, every time someone visits the said article.

And if that fact is not already daunting for news outlets that rely on the internet, there is more. Articles can be saved into screenshots. Each share of the screenshot across social media may also be considered a re-publication of the article in a digital image form. Articles can be shared. Each share of an article contains the headline and a summary of the article, which, if found substantial, can also be considered a re-publication of the article. On top of that all, we also have WEB ARCHIVES. Web archives are copies of pages saved on archive websites (like the Wayback Machine) which are saved for referential and historical purposes. Archives’ main purpose is to preserve a copy of a deleted web page that once served as a reference for another article. Even if, say, you deleted an article on your website to evade cyber-libel, your article may still be alive on these archives’ servers. These can be used as evidences that you truly wrote the article, and can also be considered an indirect continuous publication of the article.

This much digital footprints that an article leaves once it has been published online should prompt internet media outlets (and bloggers alike) to be extra careful with the contents they put up on the web. Nothing gets deleted on the internet. You have the right to remain offline. Everything you do or say online can be used and will be used against you. Maria Ressa and Rappler are now learning that the hard way.

3. Search Engine Optimization

SEO is a technical subject which has a wide array of sub-subjects. It is also subdivided into black hat (illegal), white hat (legal) and grey hat (sub legal, sub illegal.)

To explain it in layman, SEO is basically a game where you do certain things to remain on top of search results (like the results of Google search.) It’s simple, but its effects are astronomical in scale.

Let’s take Wilfredo Keng as an example. As a businessman, image is one of the things important to the survival of his business. Now, if someone uses Keng’s name as a search key, those that played the SEO game best will appear highest on Google’s search results. Rappler played this game a little further by being enlisted in Google News directory. Websites in this directory are not only listed in a special category of search results, they already have the advantage of listing highest on general search results.

Every time Google shows a snippet of the Keng article published by Rappler,the businessman is being brought under bad light, as well as his business, if we follow Mr. Keng’s reasons for filing the case. And it is not only Mr. Keng’s fight, as all his employees get affected every time his businesses lose clients due to the article.

SEO therefore is a game that affects lives, LITERALLY. And Google admitted on a recent article (published by 9to5Google) that they are also struggling in cracking fake news from their search engine, something that is not an easy endeavor. And that’s just Google alone. We also have other search engines with slightly different, and weaker, algorithms that can be easily played by SEO experts. Rappler, being an internet-only news outlet, is no doubt aware of this game, being heavily reliant on search results to gain reads. Snippets containing substantial texts putting Mr. Keng in bad light can also be considered continuous publication of the article. Furthermore, Google specially saves “caches” of pages listed on their search engine which can be considered another way that the article is being preserved and disseminated to the public even at the event that Rappler’s website goes down. Such snippets and caches are also part of Rappler’s overall strategy.

To wrap it all up, Rappler has come a long way of destroying Mr. Keng’s reputation for continuously publishing and distributing the article in various ways, for more than seven years. Keng claimed to have requested Rappler to take it down for many times, but the website still kept the article up and available. And for Wilfredo Keng’s case, being linked to drug syndicates and allegedly corrupt politicians is a big damage of inexplicable degree, even more now that there is an ongoing stigma brought upon by the government’s infamous “War on Drugs.” What about those employees of Mr. Keng who may have lost their jobs as an effect of Keng’s business losing clients?

As informed and educated people in our society, perhaps we should stop—even for a while—looking at the Rappler/Maria Ressa vs. NBI/Wilfredo Keng’s case as an “attack on press freedom.” Instead, let us observe how powerful the internet as technology can be. And how, on the wrong and irresponsible hands, it can destroy the reputation of one and the livelihood of many.

14 Replies to “On Continuous Publication, Updating Articles and SEO”

  1. Thank you. This looks like an objective analysis of Maria Ressa’s narrative echoed repeatedly by press-freedom-loving hypocrites to cloud the real issues – Rappler’s non-payment of taxes, its foreign ownership, violation of cyber libel law, among others. Rappler’s uninterrupted publication is concrete proof freedom of expression exists despite its attempt to smear the government of President Rodrigo Duterte. That Rappler can say what it wants to say belies its claim that it is being muzzled.

  2. The argument and rebuttals are there…it is up to the Court of Law, to decide, if Maria Reesa and her Rappler.com , have destroyed the reputation of Mr. Keng, with malice.

    We are not lawyers and judges. On the other side, Maria Reesa is trying to mount a defense, that she is the embodiment of “Freedom of the Press” in the Philippines. An attack on her, no matter what Libel crime she committed, is an attack on the Freedom of the Press in the Philippines.

    We don’t have to prejudge this Libel case. It is up to the Court of Law to decide. If Maria Reesa is guilty. She must face the consequences. If she is innocent; then it will be good for her…

    We are all watching for the development of this Libel case !

  3. I really dont understand the author. He could have just wrote one paragraph and used “webarchive” as source instead of going through all mentioned 3 variables.

  4. Rappler is a shallow and unreliable website repository of dirty pictures, inaccurate rumors, bad spelling and worse grammar, inhabited largely by people with no demonstrable social skills. And that’s how Maria Ressa does it all. Until now.

  5. Ignoring that one idiotic rambling comment, good article on the dissemination of digital information and how hard it is “Correct” these so-called “News” articles, especially with how buddy-buddy these Online Media outfits are to search engines like Google.

  6. Just like the NBI and DOJ, you have made your own interpretation of the law. There is nowhere in the cyber libel law that provides a continuous availability of article will make someone be charged by libel suit anytime a complainant wants without expiration of that right. The law specifically refers libel of cyber law in reference to the old libel provision of the Revised Penal Code which has a prescription of 1 year. Keng only filed a formal complaint in 2017 after 5 years of first publication or 3 years after republication in 2014, a highly suspicious one. It is only a matter of time that this case against Maria Ressa will be dismissed by the court just like how it dismissed the SEC’s “foreign ownership” issue.

    You all crazy about Rappler’s small legal issue which is not even a national issue and you chose to be blind and deaf nowadays about the bigger national legal issues confronting the Philippines as a whole. Yes, there is this number one lawbreaker in this country today and he is the highest official of the land, President Duterte. Duterte recently announced breaking immigration law by allowing Chinese to work in the Philippines without permit. A clear violation of the strict immigration law which the President, a “lawyer”, should strictly uphold at all times. He also gave housing units and livelihood programs to terrorists Abu Sayyaf and NPA surrenderees which they now enjoy recently compared to the civilians and victim families of Marawi siege in 2017 who are still hanging on their temporary evacuation and temporary housing shelters after 2 years and are still waiting for Duterte’s permanent housing units promised to them. Now where is the Marawi Funds? You went full berserk about Yolanda funds and how slow and corrupt the government at that time, yet your president today is also ineffective and inefficient.

    1. Just like your comments being inefficient and ineffective? You’re just here to seek attention.

      Yeah, we get it that you just hate Duterte’s guts and you’re a Ressa/Rappler apologist. We had enough of your drama queen bullshit. So you fully admit that you support abusive journalists.

      1. Your President Duterte gave housing, financial and livelihood assistance to terrorists-number-one lawbreakers Abu Sayyaf and NPA surrenderees who killed and terrorized thousands of innocent civilians, military, and victimized private corporations while innocent civilians who did not break the law and were victims of Marawi siege where given no priority and are still begging nowadays for enough Duterte government support. Where is justice there? Where is the logic there by Duterte? And yet you are proud of him? LOL! As I said above, he is the number one lawbreaker because he instigates always to break the law just like how he encouraged Filipinos to steal and kill Bishops of Catholic, to allow illegal Chinese workers to work in the Philippines and giving taxpayers’ public funds to terrorist and rebel groups surrenderees in the form of financial, livelihood and housing assistance. Yeah, be proud of your president, idiot!

        1. >>Duterte signed a LOT of bills in his midterm compared to the previous administration
          >>still calls him inefficient and ineffective
          >>using Marawi as favorite strawman
          >>still no backing whatsoever and still uses the amateurish Rappler
          >>still being an idiot with his try-hard shitposting


        2. These kind of comments are coming from a soy boy, which is evident in this one.

          Never, EVER trust the Yellow soy brigade.

        3. LOL! If poor Filipinos really want to improve the status of their sorry lives, they just have to join either Abu Sayyaf group or the NPA, then later on surrender to the government for amicable settlement. Within few months time only, Duterte will congratulate them and will be glad to hand them fully furnished housing units, financial and livelihood assistance coming from the Taxpayers’ money. Whereas, if Filipinos want to stay on their sorry lives and are only innocent and are victims of war like Marawi siege or any calamity, they have to wait for 2 years or more for their permanent housing units, or maybe none at all coming from the Duterte government. That is the crazy-most-stupid program of Duterte administration now. And Dutertards still proud of him. LMAO! LOL!

        4. ^Typical NPC thinking.

          You just have to admit that you just already expose yourself because you have no source to begin with and loves to use Marawi as your favorite strawman. Still, have zero argument and all attention whoring using internet terms like “LMAO” and “LOL” with no substance.

          I never thought cherrypicking and opposing for the sake of opposing is cool. Tell me more, chump.

        5. @Crazy Stupid Citizen:

          Using internet slangs in a discussion means that you’re just butthurt and choking your own tears deep inside. And your shilling is also an example of fault-finding. You just love to make shit up just trying to make yourself relevant.

          It’s time to stop. You need to take your meds and seek help.

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