PHILIPPINES: Web Tyranny in the Social Networking Capital of the World

LAUREN CHEN WRITES –  The Philippines, nicknamed the “Social Networking Capital of the World,” must watch out. Not only for stealth advertising, but for violating the supposed-to-be suspended Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Facebook dominates Filipino Internet as the country’s most visited website, even more popular than Google. Further, the Philippines has the highest active engagement in social media among all monitored Asian markets, according to Universal McCann’s “Wave” study — a project that the global media firm started in 2006. This social media study aims to track the impact of social media on internet users worldwide, specifically so that brands can better target their consumers.

The results of a recent survey revealed that 71% of active Filipino Internet users reported that social networks are integral to their social life, and 76% expressed concern for the amount of personal data they share online. This caution is not surprising given the web tyranny that exists for Filipino citizens under the country’s Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

President Benigno Aquino III signed the act into law in 2012, making cybercrimes like cybersex, child pornography, identity theft and libel illegal. Shortly after, it was suspended. The law is controversial because it extends to cybers libel, pornography and file sharing. Critics say it’s unclear who is liable for an online post. Simply click “like” on someone else’s photo and you may have a lawsuit on your hands and up to 12 years in prison if found guilty. One of the many opponets of the law, the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, said that that the Cybercrime Act would “set back decades of struggle against the darkness of ‘constitutional dictatorship’ and replace it with ‘cyber authoritarianism.'”

Despite the Supreme Court’s suspension of the law, Esperlita “Perling” Garcia, an anti-mining advocate who was recently detained for suspected cybercrime. But presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda dismissed any suggestion that this case was a clampdown on social networking sites. This was been the second case of alleged cybercrime. In August, 12 nurses were fired for having “liked” criticism on Facebook against the Taguig-Pateros District Hospital.

It’s clear that content sharing through social media is a fast-growing platform in the Philippines that is not only being monitored by advertising agencies, but also by the overstepping government. If arrests continue, it’s unlikely Filipinos, or global supporters of free media, will keep mum.

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