Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Why "Online Libel" Misses the Point

'Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err. It passes my comprehension how human beings, be they ever so experienced and able, can delight in depriving other human beings of that precious right.' -- Mahatma Gandhi, 1931

There's something wrong about the concept of 'online libel'. A story published in traditional media goes through a gauntlet of revising, editing and printing/broadcasting. When it gets printed, it's permanent. It also takes a large amount of effort and money for the aggrieved to refute what gets printed/broadcast/published. 

Hence libel in a way seeks to rectify the permanence by forcing the media establishment to admit it did wrong and to retract its statement in the same venue, at their own expense. It is a way to enforce fairness. 

Individually produced blogs, Twitter accounts and FB pages do not have the same mode of production. Content in online media is ephemeral and can easily be retracted/revised. You could easily set up your own blog, FB page and Twitter account to make counter-claims to defend yourself. 

Lastly, traditional libel cases almost always involve the publisher too, which gives the author the resources needed for defense. This is almost always not going to happen in 'online libel'. Are they going to sue Facebook, Google, Twitter, and YouTube too because they 'published' the offending articles? Most likely not. In that case, the author is left to fend for herself.

Maybe the online libel provision will force online content producers to be more prudent and to check facts before they post something potentially damaging. But it will harm freedom of speech more by scaring ordinary people into subservience.

The Legislature couldn't grasp the concept that online media is a conversation between equals, rather than a one-way communication from the powerful media owners to the powerless consumers. Online media self-correct far more easily and quickly than traditional media. 

Passing this law and other similar ones -- like for example the criminalization of "camcording," which used to be a neutral term -- shows how detached our lawmakers are from the real world. In the age of social media, they are still struggling with outdated, outmoded concepts of media production and consumption. 

I'm very disappointed at how our lawmakers behaved in this debate. Sen. Sotto acted with impunity, using his position of power to get back at his critics. Sen. Cayetano washed her hands, saying she read her portion of the bill and left the rest for the others. PNoy said he read it thoroughly and found nothing wrong with it. 

These events just show that our current batch of politicians do not understand the age of social media. The first set of politicians who grasp the issues and make the right stand will win over the netizen voters. After all, we are a young population and the internet is occupied by us.

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Other opinions: 
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation's take. "In the Philippines, where the Internet is free from censorship, President Benigno Aquino III recently signed into law the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, a troubling development for free expression."
  • Forbes Magazine opinion. "Now, as someone who has been the target of many a vicious attack from commenters or forum posters, I can understand frustration with the nature of online anonymous criticism. But to actually try to make such a thing illegal? You wade into dangerous waters that anything resembling freedom of speech will likely drown in. " 

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Wrote this previously in a Facebook status -- because I couldn't see where my link to Notes went after FB's overhaul. Posting it here, with some amplifications after the initial comments and questions from friends.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Remembering Tang Ben

I'm interrupting the normal IT stuff in this blog to remember my father, Tang Ben, who unexpectedly passed away last September. I'm doing this because some of his grandkids never got to meet and know how kind, funny, and inventive Lolo Ben was.

Tang Ben knew how to cook. He had several killer dishes in his repertoire, but my favorite (my wife's too), was his asadong manuk. Asadong manuk was reserved for special days -- fiestas and birthdays. He would marinate the chicken in toyo and kalamunding for a day. Then, the chicken would go through an elaborate process of sauteeing and braising and frying. 

Whenever he served it, the dish never lasted long on the table. So he would set aside a half-chicken or more for me and Data. 

Tang Ben said he learned to cook when he worked in his aunts' carenderia. I think what really distinguished his cooking style was his inventiveness. He would experiment a lot -- sometimes with undesirable results. We'd be honest with him when this happened, and he always took it in stride. His strength was learning from his experiments and doing better every time.

We used to have long lunches and dinner, with the elders lingering at the table, telling all sorts of stories. "Peace time" stories were a hodge-podge of prewar and, confusingly, war stories. One of the favorite recurring stories then was about the old toilets, which were elevated outhouses with a hole on the floor and a long stick. The stick's purpose was to push away the pig who would wait downstairs for your number 2 (gross!).  

When Tang Ben was going to school at Calulut as a kid, so he told, whenever it would rain, he had no other place to seek shelter so he would crawl into one of the open niches in the cemetery along the way.  Tang Ben used this story to explain why he was sensitive to spirits (and he had firsthand ghost stories to tell!).

All lunches and dinners would always have a round of jokes or real-life funny stories. But those are for future blog entries.

One of my earliest memories as a child were of him using a trick to make me go to bed. He would lift a small part of the kulambo, making it look like a tent, and would tell me, "Camping! Camping! Quick!" And I would rush to bed, crawling inside the hole.

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