Great power, great responsibilityBy Lea Salonga
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Allow me to start with a quote from my favorite superhero movie, “Spider-Man”: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
It applies to just about everything and everyone. These days, it seems power lies in one’s fingers on a keyboard attached to a computer or built into a smartphone.
Looks like the whole of Philippine cyberspace is up in arms against Republic Act No. 10175, otherwise known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
Reaction to its signing and passing into law was nothing like anything I had seen before on the Internet. Friends turned their profile pics on Facebook and Twitter black and proceeded to post memos and photos protesting this act—specifically the insertion of the libel clause purportedly at the last minute.
The idea of a law to prevent unlawful activities on the Internet is actually a great one. I’m against piracy and child pornography, so one would think that any action against these would be great, right?
Right. The only thing that’s got many people going bananas is the libel clause.
One lawmaker, Sen. TG Guingona, has pointed out that the libel clause is “vague, unfair and oppressive,” with no limitations against liability. Plus, it prescribes graver punishment than its non-cyber libel cousin. (His Facebook page can explain it far better than I could.)
What I find troubling is that our freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution, could very well be curtailed. Filipinos would not be able to freely critique a government official or have a difference of opinion with one, for fear of getting slapped with a lawsuit later on.
An online theater critic would no longer be able to look at a play or musical and be honest with his or her review; or someone like me would not enjoy the freedom to express a grievance against a restaurant, a hotel, or even a fellow human who had caused me great distress, and subsequently write about it.
Social media have given each of us a great deal of power. There is now a forum through which we can let our voices—individual or collective—be heard by the world at large.
We share news, photographs, opinions, a bad day, a great day. We are now able to remember people’s birthdays far better than we ever used to. We are a force to be reckoned with, numbering in the millions.
With our laptops and smartphones, we are able to make this world a better place.
I have seen license plates of errant taxi drivers and photos of parking lot bandits circulated to keep others out of harm’s way.
There are websites of some of the most amazing nonprofit institutions on how everyone is able to save the planet, or the people living in it.
And I’ve read wonderful critiques of my own work, all valued and appreciated—yes, both the raves and the pans. I respect what the writer has to say, even if it’s contrary to what I might believe.
The crux of all of this is respect.
Despite the great help that the Internet provides in connecting people around the world, it has, for many others, been a great bane. That thing called the Twitterverse has been a battlefield, and I have seen the carnage and the fights that have raged online.
There are people who have turned their keyboards into veritable weapons of mass destruction, in attempts to lay waste many a public figure via insults, vitriol, and other forms of written abuse. Many of them hide behind anonymity.
Many of us who have been recipients of this sort of abuse could very well be the beneficiaries of this new cybercrime law, right? Perhaps—but only if this law has been refined even further to address its inherent flaws.
My online profile photos are black as a symbol of solidarity. I’m one of the many who do not want their rights curtailed or suppressed by anyone. Yes, I am in favor of laws against all kinds of crime, including those committed on the Internet.
However, if the result is that the Everyman—who, wanting to create a better world for his family, decides to write the mayor of his small town a letter on the Internet criticizing the latter for a lack of law enforcement—is subsequently thrown in jail, then this law needs to be looked at again.
I want to have faith in governance and look forward to putting a normal photograph back on my profiles. But until action is taken to amend this law, black is my color of choice.
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