Is ‘Liking,’ ‘Sharing,’ ‘Re-tweeting’ Libelous?

Sen. Edgardo Angara allayed fears that "liking," "sharing," or "re-tweeting" any post on social media would make one easily liable for libel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

"Kaya nga ang apprehension over this is exaggerated naman masyado. No one has ever been charged for expressing his opinion. That is not covered at all," Angara said in a weekly Senate press forum.

Angara, the main proponent of the Cybercrime prevention bill at the Senate, said Section 5 of the newly enacted law is just one of the main provisions in the law that is misunderstood.

Republic Act No. 10175 Section 5 (a) states that "Aiding or Abetting in the Commission of Cybercrime. - Any person who willfully abets or aids in the commission of any of the offenses enumerated in this Act shall be held liable."

But Angara said if the online user only made a comment based on his opinion, he is not necessarily immediately liable for libel.

"Kung opinion lang, hindi. Kung malicious lang at falsehood, doon ka pwedeng ma-charge," Angara said.

A person is also unlikely to face charges if he clicks "Like" on a status message that makes a serious accusation that is later proven false.

"Hindi kasi hindi naman ikaw ang author nun, (No because you are not the author of that message)," he pointed out.

"You cannot be charged because you are considered an audience. You are a non-party," he said.

On the other hand, those who "share" a post that demeans or slanders a name or a personality may face liabilities if there is conspiracy, say to destroy one's name, a firm, or business establishment.

Angara, however, said that even conspiracy is difficult to prove.

"Conspiracy na 'yon. (But) mas mahirap i-prove 'yon na may conspiracy. So, napakahirap na i-hurdle kung may nagco-complain," the senator said, adding that the burden of proof now lies with the complainant.

Angara stressed there is a need for a libel clause in the law but said there is no need to panic over that provision in the law.

"Ang affected lang ay if i-slander mo yung isang known person. Pero yung mga blog na nagkokomentaryo, wala effect yun. Katulad din ng kolmunista (Those affected are the ones given to slandering a known person. But those who keep a blog, who keep a commentary, they are not affected. They are like columnists)," he said.

"The idea is that freedom of speech does not affect libelous or slanderous statements or remark. That has never been the intent either in America or in France where it was born neither in the Philippines. Just to sound legalistic, one can review the whole history of freedom of speech and press. Libel is not protected by the freedom of speech. Bakit hindi kasama sa Revised Penal Code yung Internet? Kasi wala pang online nun. Yung Revised Penal Code was circa 1934 or 1935. It's not a question of leveling the playing field. It's recognizing the fact that libel is not protected by freedom of speech or press," explained the outgoing senator.

Angara said he is also amenable to the proposal of Sen. Francis Escudero to decriminalize libel and the solution to that is to amend the Revised Penal Code.

Decriminalizing libel does not mean that journalists or writers won't be liable for their wrongdoings but would be penalized in the form of damages and not in the form of a jail sentence.

"Ang liability nila is damages which probably more hurting than being sent to jail. Jail may heroic proportion pa yun pero pag pinagbayad ka ng damages, mauubos ang personal fortune mo pati ng pamilya. The substitution of civil damages is heavier than jail. What I'm saying is that there is no solution to decriminalize libel in the cyber law when the bill says it's a crime. Ang solusyon dun i-amend muna yung penal code and then kahit hindi na natin i-amend yung cybercrime, dead law na ito. Hindi na ito enforceable," Angara said.