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Will you be held liable for "Liking" an openly defamatory statement, "Commenting" on it, or "Sharing" it with others on Facebook and Twitter?

 Will you be held liable for "Liking" an openly defamatory statement, "Commenting" on it, or "Sharing" it with others on Facebook and Twitter?

  1. The Supreme Court held that only the author of the offending online article is liable.
  2. blog service provider like Yahoo and Internet service providers and content providers like Globe, Smart, Sun Cellular, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Internet Café are not liable.

G.R. No. 203335.February 11, 2014

Section 5 of the Cybercrime Law

Section 5 provides:
Sec. 5. Other Offenses. — The following acts shall also constitute an offense:
(a) Aiding or Abetting in the Commission of Cybercrime. – Any person who willfully abets or aids in the commission of any of the offenses enumerated in this Act shall be held liable.

The Supreme Court has declared this provision as null and void as it "encroaches on freedom of speech" for it "generates a chilling effect on those who express themselves through cyberspace posts, comments and other messages."

Aiding or abetting has of course well-defined meaning and application in existing laws. When a person aids or abets another in destroying a forest, smuggling merchandise into the country, or interfering in the peaceful picketing of laborers, his action is essentially physical and so is susceptible to easy assessment as criminal in character. These forms of aiding or abetting lend themselves to the tests of common sense and human experience.

But, when it comes to certain cybercrimes, the waters are muddier and the line of sight is somewhat blurred. The idea of "aiding or abetting" wrongdoings online threatens the heretofore popular and unchallenged dogmas of cyberspace use.
Two of the most popular sites are Facebook and Twitter

if the post is made available to the public, meaning to everyone and not only to his friends, anyone on Facebook can react to the posting, clicking any of several buttons of preferences on the program's screen such as "Like," "Comment," or "Share." "Like" signifies that the reader likes the posting while "Comment" enables him to post online his feelings or views about the same, such as "This is great!" When a Facebook user "Shares" a posting, the original "posting" will appear on his own Facebook profile, consequently making it visible to his down-line Facebook Friends.

Twitter, on the other hand, is an internet social networking and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read short text-based messages of up to 140 characters. These are known as "Tweets." Microblogging is the practice of posting small pieces of digital content—which could be in the form of text, pictures, links, short videos, or other media—on the internet. Instead of friends, a Twitter user has "Followers," those who subscribe to this particular user's posts, enabling them to read the same, and "Following," those whom this particular user is subscribed to, enabling him to read their posts. Like Facebook, a Twitter user can make his tweets available only to his Followers, or to the general public. If a post is available to the public, any Twitter user can "Retweet" a given posting. Retweeting is just reposting or republishing another person's tweet without the need of copying and pasting it.

In the cyberworld, there are many actors: a) the blogger who originates the assailed statement; b) the blog service provider like Yahoo; c) the internet service provider like PLDT, Smart, Globe, or Sun; d) the internet café that may have provided the computer used for posting the blog; e) the person who makes a favorable comment on the blog; and f) the person who posts a link to the blog site.  Now, suppose Maria (a blogger) maintains a blog on WordPress.com (blog service provider). She needs the internet to access her blog so she subscribes to Sun Broadband (Internet Service Provider).

One day, Maria posts on her internet account the statement that a certain married public official has an illicit affair with a movie star. Linda, one of Maria's friends who sees this post, comments online, "Yes, this is so true! They are so immoral." Maria's original post is then multiplied by her friends and the latter's friends, and down the line to friends of friends almost ad infinitum. Nena, who is a stranger to both Maria and Linda, comes across this blog, finds it interesting and so shares the link to this apparently defamatory blog on her Twitter account. Nena's "Followers" then "Retweet" the link to that blog site.
Pamela, a Twitter user, stumbles upon a random person's "Retweet" of Nena's original tweet and posts this on her Facebook account. Immediately, Pamela's Facebook Friends start Liking and making Comments on the assailed posting. A lot of them even press the Share button, resulting in the further spread of the original posting into tens, hundreds, thousands, and greater postings.
The question is: are online postings such as "Liking" an openly defamatory statement, "Commenting" on it, or "Sharing" it with others, to be regarded as "aiding or abetting?" In libel in the physical world, if Nestor places on the office bulletin board a small poster that says, "Armand is a thief!," he could certainly be charged with libel. If Roger, seeing the poster, writes on it, "I like this!," that could not be libel since he did not author the poster. If Arthur, passing by and noticing the poster, writes on it, "Correct!," would that be libel? 

No, for he merely expresses agreement with the statement on the poster. He still is not its author. Besides, it is not clear if aiding or abetting libel in the physical world is a crime.

But suppose Nestor posts the blog, "Armand is a thief!" on a social networking site. Would a reader and his Friends or Followers, availing themselves of any of the "Like," "Comment," and "Share" reactions, be guilty of aiding or abetting libel? And, in the complex world of cyberspace expressions of thoughts, when will one be liable for aiding or abetting cybercrimes? Where is the venue of the crime?

Except for the original author of the assailed statement, the rest (those who pressed Like, Comment and Share) are essentially knee-jerk sentiments of readers who may think little or haphazardly of their response to the original posting. Will they be liable for aiding or abetting? And, considering the inherent impossibility of joining hundreds or thousands of responding "Friends" or "Followers" in the criminal charge to be filed in court, who will make a choice as to who should go to jail for the outbreak of the challenged posting?
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Of course, if the "Comment" does not merely react to the original posting but creates an altogether new defamatory story against Armand like "He beats his wife and children," 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 in 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.

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