Legislator seeks to punish social media bullies

By: Leila B. Salaverria, February 8th, 2014 07:23 PM

MANILA, Philippines—A congressman appears to have had enough of bullies on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media.

Leyte Rep. Sergio Apostol is calling for the passage of a law that would impose a 6 to 12-year jail term and fines on people who bully or threaten others through social media sites, which he said would include e-mail accounts.

“For every benefit that social media may bring lies the danger of some who take social media as a means to take advantage of another. Cyber bullying and other forms of harassment through the use of social media may cause mental and psychological anguish to their innocent victims,” Apostol said in an explanatory note to his bill.

He defines cyber bullying as “the use of social media to harm or harass other people in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner.”

With the ubiquity of the Internet and electronic devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets, social media sites have become popular venues for people to vent their opinions and reach out to friends, families, and peers.

According to Apostol, anybody who uses social media to communicate with others, share information or blog has to practice “responsible and fair exercise” of his or her right to free expression and opinion.

“He must give everyone his due, observe good faith and avoid any form of harassment that may bring harm or shame to the name or reputation of another, without any valid or legal justification, in a public forum through the use of social media,” he said.

His bill seeks to impose a 6 to 12-year jail term, or a P30,000 to P50,000 fine, on cyber bullies.

For those who would commit libel through the use of social media, the penalty sought to be imposed is a jail term of six months to six years and a fine of P30,000 to P50,000.

Apostol’s bill, filed late last month, comes as the Supreme Court continues to deliberate on the constitutionality of the country’s cybercrime law, which imposes harsher penalties for online libel, and which has raised fears that sharing posts or tweets may also lead to criminal liability.

Critics of the law, implementation of which has been temporarily stopped, have also warned that it would curtail free expression.

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