If you were thinking only SOPA can enact laws against ‘Liking’ on Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB), you must think again. According to a new set of laws passed in the Philippines, the government can sentence people to 12 years in prison and a maximum fine of one million Philippine pesos (roughly $24,000) for each incident, simply for “liking” a Facebook (FB) post that has been deemed “libelous”.
According to the country’s new Cybercrime Prevention Act, a person can be jailed if he or she participates in cybersex, identity theft, hacking, spamming, pornography, and yes, even social media.
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President Benigno Aquino III, signed into effect the new law on September 12, which many think is so vague that even an explanation of ‘online libel’ is not clear. “If you click ‘like,’ you can be sued, and if you share, you can also be sued,” Filipino Senator Teofisto Guingona III said, and added, “Who is liable? It isn’t clear. The one who made the original post? The ones who share? The ones who tweet? Even you, if you post a simple, ‘hehehe,’ right? Does that mean you agree?”
“Even Mark Zuckerberg can be charged with cyber-libel,” the senator said
The hazy law has witnessed a sharp protest from the 35 million Filipino social media users. Hackers have showed their protests by posting ironic message defacing government websites, while other lawmakers are penning petitions to stop the law. Despite all these, there have been no signals from the government of cancelling, or modifying the law. Human Rights Watch has also voiced their concerns over the controversial law, saying it seriously threatens freedom of expression.
“Allegedly libelous speech, online or offline, should be handled as a private civil matter, not a crime,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Out of a total of over 95 million in Philippines, more than a quarter of that are active internet users. The country has more than 25 million Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) users, and around 10 million users on Twitter. Filipinos rank among the top 10 users of both sites in the world.
One of the senators who voted for the law, Francis Escudero, has already acknowledged it as a mistake. While another senator, Sen. Vicente Sotto III, who has been under attack recently from the Filipino online community for allegedly plagiarizing an American blogger and the late Sen. Robert Kennedy for his speeches against a controversial family planning and reproductive health bill, makes no apology for being one of two senators to insert the provision for libel at the very last minute.
“Yes, I did it. I inserted the provision on libel. Because I believe in it and I don’t think there’s any additional harm,” Sotto was quoted as saying in the local news website.