Avoiding Libel on Facebook


The new battleground for committing libel is now the internet. A lawyer has said the Philippines has no specific internet libel law making doubts if libel cases stemmed from defamatory statements on Facebook and other social networks shall prosper.

The world’s first-known libel case on Facebook was filed in Europe in July 2008,  by British businessman Matthew Firsht against his former school friend, Grant Raphael who alleged the former as a gay. Firsht won and awarded damages for the libel case and  breach of privacy.

In the Philippines, the first libel case on Facebook was filed by celebrity cosmetic surgeon–Dr. Vicky Belo against writer-lawyer-activist Atty. Argee Guevarra who imputed  on Belo as the “Reyna ng Kaplastikan, Reyna ng Kapalpakan” referring to the alleged malpractice of the Belo clinics. (Update: The case was dismissed after the judge trying the case ruled that there was no libel on the internet yet. However, several similar cases have been pending in several courts nationwide.)

In the offing for a possible libel battle are the controversial shout-outs of Film Director and Actress Gina Alajar on her Facebook making some negative comments against young starlet–Krista Ranillo over the alleged affair of the young star with boxing icon Manny Pacquiao. Read in one of the shout-outs of Alajar’s account: If I am Jinkee Pacquiao, I will not give up Manny. “Krista Ranillo is not at all worth it!

Definitely, libel on the internet as well as in broadcasting are not specifically mentioned in our libel laws. However, there is a provision in the law that covers every means of libel.

The Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, where libel is being discussed, has yet to define “similar means” from among the ways or vehicle to commit libel.

Art. 355. Libel means by writings or similar means. — A libel committed by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition, or any similar means, shall be punished by prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods or a fine ranging from 200 to 6,000 pesos, or both, in addition to the civil action which may be brought by the offended party.

According to some judges, that “similar means“provision should have been clarified because it has been subjected to various interpretations.

Contrary to Gina Alajar’s contention that her account in Facebook where she posted the shout-outs unfavorable to the Ranillos is private, a cyber law expert said a mere 2 to 3 persons receiving the message is enough to meet the requirement of the publication in libel.

Meantime, I am reserving the rest of the spaces on this page to my Media Laws & Ethics class at the University of San Jose Recoletos for further discussions….

UPDATE 1

Here are my discussions before my Media Laws & Ethics classes at the USJR on why posts and messages in Facebook may be considered libelous:

It’s legal basis:

  • Anything on Facebook is in writing (Art. 355—Libel means by writing and similar means)
  • Facebook is online— therefore it’s “public”. (Art. 355– “any similar means”)
  • If the shoutout and other statements on Facebook is a malicious imputation (Art. 353– cause “dishonor”…)
  • If the subject of the imputation is named (Elements of libel–”specific”)
  • If the statement stays for a while and not removed even the attention of the doer is called– (Elements of libel– “repetitive”)

Privacy of “shout-outs” and other statements on it:

  • Shout-outs” are addressed to “network of friends” (However, 2 or 3 persons reading it or a third party reading it has already met the requirement of publication of libel.)
  • Pages” on Facebook are not private

Important points to remember in “Facebooking”:

  • Sending a libelous statement to 2 to 3 people meet the standard for publication in libel.
  • Republishing a libelous statement by “cut and paste” is also a libel.
  • Creating a hyperlink to a libelous statement is also libel.
  • Facebook is not liable for libelous statement.
    • (The Electronic Commerce Law (Republic Act 8792) states that a service provider is not liable as long as long as it “does not have actual knowledge, or is not aware of the facts and circumstances” from which unlawful material is published, distributed or disseminated. “Therefore, the only way to hold them liable is when you ask them to take it down. And when they refuse to take it down, then it appears that they agree with the statement,”

UPDATE 2

On February 18, 2014, the Supreme Court of the Philippines had finally decided that criminalizing ONLINE LIBEL is CONSTITUTIONAL and Cyber Libel is still libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code. It means, libel committed in social networking sites and anywhere on the net is  punishable. So, beware of your posts!

Salient points of the SC’s decision on Cyber Libel:

  • Only the ORIGINAL SOURCE of the libelous remarks online can be held liable under RA 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act)
  • Those who comment and “liked” such libelous posts are not liable
  • It’s not yet clear, as of Feb. 19, 2014, if sharing a libelous post would also make the sharer liable.

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206 thoughts on “Avoiding Libel on Facebook

  1. Sir Kung pinahiya ko po ba ang isang Tao dahil sa maling ginawa niya at napagsabihan ng masama through posting in Facebook considered po bang libel un

    Like

  2. Boss, pano kung sa hindi sa Facebook or other social media account? Say for example sa Online Gaming? Dota 2 player po kasi ako at sobrang dami ng trashtalker. Kapag ba napahiya yung isang tao dahil sa pag trash talk, considered as libel na siya? Pwede na po bang kasuhan ng libel kung sino man nang harass sa’yo? I would like to know more regarding this matter. Kasi sa sobrang dami ng trash talkers online, sobrang dami na din ng nabubully. And I believe di to isang simpleng bagay. Kasi apektado yung emotional aspect ng biktima. Eh ako din mismo na de depress minsan sa sobrang bully ng mga tao sa online gaming community. Thanks po in advance.

    Like

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