• Only author of offensive post may be penalized for ‘cyberlibel’

    Persida Acosta

    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    A former college buddy of mine posted a picture with a caption on Facebook about our former classmate. A couple of people liked and commented on that post, which angered our former classmate as he claims the post to be libelous. Now, he is threatening us with a lawsuit. Can he possibly proceed with the filing of a criminal case? Can I also be held responsible even if I merely liked the post? I hope you can advice me. I actually did not think it would turn out like this. I did not mean any harm to anyone.

    Dear Arturo,
    A person who posts a picture, article or commentary on social media, such as Facebook, does not necessarily make him legally liable, unless his act/s would be proven to be in contrast with our existing laws.

    Accordingly, your former classmate may only institute a criminal case if he can clearly establish that what your former college buddy posted on Facebook is freely or easily available for other people to see and the same is evidently libelous. Libel, as defined under Revised Penal Code (RPC), is the “public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead” (Article 353).

    We would like to emphasize that the provisions of Republic Act (RA) 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, may come into play given that the allegedly libelous act was done by your friend through the use of the Internet. As provided under Section 4 (c) (4) of RA 10175, “The following acts constitute the offense of cybercrime punishable under this Act: x x x (c) Content-related Offenses: x x x(4) Libel. — The unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.”

    We, however, believe that your former classmate has no cause of action against you as you are not the author of the post in question and you merely “liked” what your friend posted. Section 5 of RA 10175, which deals with aiding or abetting in the commission of cybercrime, with respect to Section 4(c)(4) thereof was held unconstitutional (JoseJesus M. Disini Jr. et al. vs. The Secretary of Justice et al., G.R. No. 203335, February 11, 2014). Apart from this, the Supreme Court ruled that, insofar as “cyberlibel” is concerned, only the author of the libelous statement or article may be penalized.

    This notwithstanding, it is advisable for you and the rest of our readers to be cautious of reacting or responding to social media posts. The High Court pronounced that, “x x x Of course, if the “Comment” does not merely react to the original posting but creates an altogether new defamatory story x x x then that should be considered an original posting published on the Internet. Both the penal code and the cybercrime law clearly punish authors of defamatory publications. Make no mistake, libel destroys reputations that society values. Allowed to cascade on the Internet, it will destroy relationships and, under certain circumstances, will generate enmity and tension between social or economic groups, races or religions, exacerbating existing tension in their relationships. x x x” (Disini Jr. et al. vs. The Secretary of Justice et al.)

    We hope that we were able to answer your queries. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.

    Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net


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