ZDNet Asia has an article that says that Philippine courts are unlikely to recognize internet libel on Facebook. I understand where the writer is coming from but I have a different position. Speaking about internet libel and defamation in general, I think a criminal case involving libelous/defamatory statements on Facebook could prosper in the Philippines. If electronic documents are equivalent to paper-based documents, produce legal effects and are admissible in evidence in court under the Philippine E-Commerce Act and the Supreme Court Rules on Electronic Evidence, it makes sense that something written or said online can also lead to either libel or defamation (depending on whether the statement is considered in writing or oral). In a recent UK decision, the court said that certain defamatory online statements were akin to oral speech so the crime was defamation rather than libel. I understand that there is a principle that criminal laws are construed restrictively, but it doesn’t mean that criminal laws should only be interpreted to apply to criminal acts that are carried out using the technology existing at the time the law took effect. For example, the article in the Philippine Revised Penal Code on murder will still apply and doesn’t have to be updated when, in the future, a person kills someone with a lightsaber. A similar rationale applies to libel and defamation committed online. The fact that one has a private group on Facebook doesn’t substantially change matters. One can still defame a third party when you maliciously speak ill of him or her privately with your group of friends, and the third party subsequently finds out about it. Gone are the days when the internet was considered an unregulable place separate from the real world. In the case of online libel or defamation, the internet is just another communications medium.
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