I AM still waiting for that invitation from Senator Sonny Trillanes. He threatened to hold a hearing on internet trolls and fakers, and I have been accused of being one. I want to have my day in Congress so that I can tell the good senator, and Senators Pangilinan and Aquino, that the last time I checked, my taxes partly pay for their salaries, and hence I am enraged that they are becoming enemies of my freedom to speak.
So much effort has been spent in addressing trolling and fakery, as if it has become a national crisis that precious time in the Senate would need to be wasted to conduct hearings in aid of legislation to curb these.
There is no need to legislate against trolling and fakery. All you need to have are the security settings in social media in the case of trolls, and a hefty supply of common sense and intelligence to deal with fake news.
I mean, Facebook has already provided for mechanisms to screen out trolls. Even if your account is public, you can control who gets to post their comments. You can limit this only to friends. The block function is also there to serve its purpose of forever banning someone with trollish behavior from your cyberspace.
And when people post abusive comments, you can always report these to Facebook, or even to the anti-cybercrime units of government for prosecution for cyber-libel and other crimes.
As for fake news, nothing beats having a healthy sense of discernment and common sense to acquire the skill of knowing when is news fake and when it is not. Intelligence cannot be legislated, and you do not trample on a fundamental constitutional right just to protect gullible people from falling for a canard. Telling a lie is not even a mortal sin, but simply a venial one. And if you are going to penalize fake news, we should all be ready to prosecute parents who keep telling their children that there is a Santa Claus.
The final check to fake news lies in the same spaces where it thrives. The fact that social media and the internet are free access spaces may embolden some creatively mischievous people to put up sites that are believable copies of the real ones and may convince people that Leila de Lima and President Duterte had a romantic past. But it is this freedom that also allows intelligence and diligence to flow freely that would sooner or later reveal the fakery for what it is, and remind you that there is a limit to the President’s womanizing.
The bottom line here is that there are more important affairs of state that needs attention than conducting Senate hearings to protect the welfare of people who are offended by trolls and are gullible to fake news. There are more important cohorts of people whose rights are being assailed who need the protection of laws.
However, there is one thing that needs the attention of Congress, and even of the government, for the act is patently an attack on the constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech. The act is so despicable that it even borders on becoming akin to an act of terrorism.
This is when people, who often act anonymously, deliberately game the rules of social media to silence the voices of others with whom they disagree. They make anonymous accounts not with the purpose of contributing to political discourse, but are in fact aimed at orchestrating a coordinated taking down of legitimate sites. They behave like they have become the internet Talibans, even proudly announcing their hits.
Recently, an anti-Duterte site anonymously named Resbak Operatives, claimed responsibility for the taking down of a popular satirical site named Senyora Santibañez. The site also proudly announced a list of their targets, which include prominent pro-Duterte pages.
This act was a blatant attack on the constitutional right of people to speak freely, which even includes the right to offend. Taking down a site for alleged violation of free speech without due process is in itself a violation of free speech. What aggravates the trampling of a right is when such is done with deliberate malice, as a tool to silence a political voice. Worse is when such acts are done by paid political operators at the behest of certain political interests, some of which are even using government money.
To be fair, even pro-Duterte sites also act offensively or in preemptive self-defense, by also mass-reporting anti-Duterte sites.
If there is any legal controversy that needs attention from our legislators and government regulators, and from Facebook, it will be this.
They are not the trolls. They can be blocked and sued.
They are not the fakers of news. Prudence and intelligence can expose them for what they are.
It is this kind of cyberterrorism, these cyber-Talibans, which Senator Trillanes should focus on, for they are the real threats to democracy and free speech.