Since the Cybercrime Prevention Act was signed into law last 12 September, many individuals and groups have come out denouncing its unconstitutional provisions, and much has been said about why we will be better off without this questionable law.
What many who don’t possess netizenship don’t realize is this: the Internet, along with all its attendant technologies, has flourished unshackled since the 90s. Cyberspace has progressed by leaps and bounds and will continue to do so in the years to come, recognizing neither national boundary nor nationality.
One of cyberspace’s most influential provinces, which is called the United States of America in offline terms, has a government that has, for the most part, kept the digital highways unobstructed and unpoliced. And in this milieu netizens came into being.
An entire cyber-culture has enveloped the Internet, in which its users are governed not by hard and fast rules but by a sense of other users’ online presence. Newbies are appalled by the oftentimes riotous debates that take place in various Web-based fora. The uninitiated find the seemingly raucous exchanges disconcerting and indecent.
But that’s just it. Decency is defined by culture. In the ‘Interwebs’ an entirely unique culture has evolved that allows connected people from around the globe to interact as one community. This online culture is both inclusive (if you embrace it then you’re part of it) and exclusive (you have a choice not to be part of it). There are no laws that can be formulated that will be able to force cyber-culture to conform to geographical norms.
This is not to say that netizens can say whatever they want without consequence. Rather, it’s the consequence that dictates how netizens behave online. There is, after all, such a thing as netiquette.
Libel clauses, such as the provisions spuriously inserted into the Philippine Cybercrime Law, won’t be as effective a deterrent against irresponsible or damaging speech as the netizen’s fear of losing his audience.
Cyberspace is not a void. It’s a global community. One is in it to be with others. Therefore, becoming an online pariah is just as bad as not being able to connect to the Internet at all. In cyberspace, when one gains friends (Facebook) or followers (Twitter) or contacts (LinkedIn), it is a sign of being accorded respect or even admiration. Conversely, censure or reprimand or rejection is felt when losing one’s audience, by the reduction of one’s network.
We do have our trolls, our spammers — the cyber equivalent of troublemakers. And that’s why we have technology to help us along: the ability to block unwanted users, to mute noisy rabble rousers, to filter out junk.
I find that netizens value online freedom of expression because that state of being fosters an atmosphere of acceptance, learning and understanding. Clamp down on that freedom and you would in effect be hampering the growth of the Internet.
RA10175 betrays the Filipino netizen. It is a bumbling step backward, and aims to deny our place in the global online community.
Interacting with fellow bloggers and social media practitioners from various Asian countries, it was very clear to me how comfortable and responsive Filipinos are with online freedom (in spite of the lackluster connectivity that the general population can afford). Other countries, such as Thailand and Vietnam, have repressive governments that their netizens have to constantly fight in order to gain a semblance of freedom.
If we allow the unconstitutional provisions of RA10175 to remain in effect, we will be joining the growing number of countries with repressive regimes that fear the Internet and its power as a great equalizer.