MANILA, Philippines — Is the online uproar against Robert Blair Carabuena, the Philip Morris executive caught on video mauling an on-duty traffic enforcer, a form of cyber justice where the wronged is defended and the perpetrator gets his due?
Or is it already bordering on what is now called as cyber bullying, where hoards of social media users end up ganging up on Carabuena with their comments: some sane but some already threatening?
In the aftermath of the viral video that depicted Carabuena assaulting MMDA traffic enforcer Saturnino Fabros, social networks Twitter and Facebook were flooded with reactions condemning the former’s action against a person of authority.
Many were appalled by what they saw on the video, with some camps even launching a campaign to have Carabuena dismissed from his work at the said tobacco company.
Naturally, everyone threw sympathy and support behind Fabros, who according to the consensus of Internet users was merely doing his job.
Even Malacañang hailed the role of netizens in seeking accountability for Carabuena, likening the social media reactions to the President’s crusade against the “wang-wang” (wailing sirens) mentality in government.
“Public engagement is the bedrock of democracy,” said presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda. “It is at its most potent and powerful when the constant scrutiny of the citizenry serves as a deterrent to the illicit and unlawful.”
According to Sonnie Santos, an Internet safety advocate and founder of Web Safety Philippines, knee-jerk reactions to Carabuena’s wrongdoing were but natural for human beings.
“Meron siyang sinaktan (He did hurt someone), so it’s normal for us to react when we see somebody who is not behaving right,” Santos told InterAksyon in a phone interview. “Normal reaction lang iyon.”
What is not normal, Santos said, are those people who want to get even by ganging up on the person and issuing grave threats against him.
Death threats, harassment online
Following the spread of the mauling video, Carabuena’s full name eventually became a trending topic on Twitter, which means a lot of people in the Philippines have been talking about him on the social networking site.
But some have even gone to a point of digging out personal information such as his cellphone number and home address, calling on social media users to act on the injustice done against Fabros.
Still, there are those who decided to create Facebook pages with titles that read: “Patayin si (Kill) Robert Blair Carabuena.”
“That kind of reaction no longer has legitimacy, unlike the initial outburst, which eventually subsides after some time,” Santos said.
“If you’re already fanning the flames, that is different. It is already bordering on harassing the person,” he added.
Some Twitter users had already called out those who are spreading Carabuena’s personal information, urging others to “let due process take its course.”
“Posting someone’s mobile number and residential address publicly does not make you different from the guy who assaulted the MMDA enforcer,” said user @misterjpmanahan.
“I think the guy understands the implications of what he did today when he assaulted the enforcer. The legal process should take over,” added former Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal in his Twitter account.
The need to set rules
According to Santos, these things happen because Filipinos enjoy a liberal democracy where we are free to express our opinion without fear that we will be censured, or that the government will get back to us.
This behavior is amplified by the Internet, and specifically by social media, where everyone is free to dump his or her opinion — no matter how gravely unpleasant they may be — without necessarily being called out under Philippine law.
“Kung hindi ka makakapagmura (If you can’t curse) over the radio or TV, you can do that on social media,” Santos said. “If you can’t threat anyone on radio or TV, you can do that online.”
While the issue on imposing rules and legislative measures to “herd off” such unpleasant behavior online is debatable, Santos said there should be a consensus for every Internet user to “act responsibly” online.
“We should find a balance between expressing ourselves … and not bordering on harassment, bullying, or even hurting another person,” he said.
“There is definitely a need to educated users to be responsible in expressing their opinion online,” he added.
If users will not be the ones to define the rules of engagement online, Santos said other sectors of society, such as the government, will be forced to come in and set the rules for Internet users.
And that is not something that is set in the distant future. In fact, several bills have already been passed in Congress that intends to punish acts considered as “cyberbullying” in Philippine cyberspace.
In June, for example, Buhay Party List Representatives Irwin Tieng and Michael Velarde filed House Bill 6116, also known as the Anti-Cyber Bullying Act of 2012, which imposes a fine ranging from P50,000 to P100,000 and imprisonment from six months to six years for acts lawfully determined as cyber bullying.
“With the use of cell phones and social networking sites, cruelty has been amplified and shifted from the hallways to the internet, where a nasty, profanity-laced comment, complete with an embarrassing photo can be viewed by the public,” Tieng said.
In justifying the need for the bill, Tieng emphasized how cyber bullying is especially harmful since attacks “are not easily erased … and can cause trouble for the victim for months and years.”
The bill defines cyber bullying as someone who “engages in social cruelty using the internet or other digital technologies by repeatedly sending offensive, rude, and insulting messages to the victim, including threats of harm or are highly intimidating.”