Would Voltaire die for Silent No More and Madam Claudia?

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SASS ROGANDO SASOT

LIKE Voltaire, expect me to fight to the death for people’s right to say what they want to say no matter how disagreeable their words are to me. But what exactly should compel me or anyone to die courageously for people who don’t even have the guts to reveal themselves as they use their freedom to speak to destroy people’s reputation?

The anonymous authors of the Liberal Party-aligned Silent No More and Madam Claudia blogs are demanding freedom from our society while at the same time using anonymity as a shield from accountability. Why should we give that accountability-free rights to them? Is their citizenship more superior than the rest of us?

I don’t agree with censoring blogs critical of the administration or the opposition. What I don’t agree with is that these anonymous blogs aren’t playing fair. It’s not only that their anonymity has made it hard to seek legal remedies against some of their libelous speech, their anonymity has also shielded their authors from public scrutiny.

Public scrutiny is society’s immediate mechanism to regulate freedom of speech. It’s applied both to the content of the utterance and the character, motivations and interests of the speaker. Whenever we speak in public, we must expect to receive both forms of scrutiny because people have the right to analyze what we say and probe our motivations as they listen to us.


Silent No More and Madam Claudia often attack perspectives they don’t agree with by both scrutinizing the content of their opponents’ speech and besmirching their reputations. Since their authors are anonymous, they are shielded from the same kind of scrutiny that they subject their opponents.

Should anonymous speech be forbidden by law? I don’t think so. Sometimes anonymity is the only way one could continue exercising one’s freedom of speech, which requires one to be alive. That’s the circumstance Jose Rizal and other Filipinos faced during the Spanish colonization. The problem lies in using anonymity not to preserve one’s life so one could continue speaking but to shield oneself from the responsibility that comes with freedom of speech and to evade the public scrutiny one must go through in order to earn the public’s trust.

Instead of a law prohibiting anonymous speech, I think what’s needed is a law compelling the pre-action disclosure of the identity of an anonymous author only in the context of certain circumstances such as a libel suit and infringement of Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code, which prohibits “publishing false news which may endanger the public order, or cause damage to the interest or credit of the State”.

In the New York Supreme Court (NYSC) decision on Cohen vs Google Inc., Google Inc. was ordered to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger after fashion model Liskula Cohen petitioned the court in January 2009 for “pre-action discovery” against an anonymous blogger using Google’s blogging service www.blogger.com.

Pre-action discovery is a legal tool used to reveal information necessary for a case to proceed, such as the name of the defendant.

The anonymous blogger behind Skanks in New York City depicted Cohen as a lewd woman. For the defamation suit against the blogger to move forward, his or her identity had to be revealed.

NYSC decided that Cohen was “entitled to pre-action disclosure of information as to the identity of the Anonymous Blogger, as she has sufficiently established the merits of her proposed cause of action for defamation…and that that information sought is material and necessary to identify the potential defendant or defendants.”

Quoting a decision of a court in Virginia on a similar case, NYSC emphasized what must be balanced in cases like these:

“In that the Internet provides a virtually unlimited, inexpensive, and almost immediate means of communication with tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people, the dangers of its misuse cannot be ignored. The protection of the right to communication anonymously must be balanced against the need to assure that those persons who choose to abuse the opportunities presented by this medium can be made to answer for such transgressions.”

Applied to Silent No More and Madam Claudia, the authors of these anonymous blogs have the right to freedom of speech. However, that right must be balanced against the right of the people they maliciously attack to seek legal remedies against them. That legal remedy starts from having a law that gives aggrieved parties the tool to find out the identities of these anonymous bloggers so that they could be held fully accountable.

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