Law and Society

You, Facebook and the Law...

Facebook is the "most popular social networking website on the Internet today" and in our day-to-day activities, we usually encounter this:

"Atty., my officemate commented in my Facebook account that "I’m a whore!", can I sue her?

Another client says, "one of my picture in Facebook was used as a profile picture of a fictitious and derogatory account, what should I do?"

The influence of Facebook to Filipinos is more pronounced than any other citizens of the world. This is because of the Filipino traits of close family ties and the need for constant communication for OFW scattered around the world, Facebook has provided us a tool to address our longing for togetherness. It is not surprising now that "Si Daddy, si Mommy, si Kuya, si Ate, Bunso, pati na si Lola at Lolo, meron Facebook account." Facebook are now commonly used not only in organizing family and school reunions but also in our everyday lives. The youth now use this site to exchange notes and for their school projects. It has become part of our everyday routine.

Of the 500 million of users of Facebook, Filipinos are one of its top users, taking advantage of its user friendly applications, entertaining yet addictive games, easily accessible chat room, personal profile with lots of space for uploading pictures and videos, among others. In short, its Friendster, YouTube, Twitter and PSP, rolled into one.

However, with the exponential increase of the number of Filipino users of Facebook, legal issues and controversies arising from the use of Facebook have now reared its ugly head. Facebook, which started by Mark Zuckerberg amidst legal issues of hacking, invasion of privacy and infringement of intellectual property, have spawned more legal controversies among its users. News of exchange of libelous comments in Facebook among officemates, friends and relatives are now frequent. Several cases have already been filed and the number is still growing. Celebrity doctor Vicky Belo filed against Atty. Argee Guevarra, one of the controversial Facebook cases, as the legal counsel of one of Belo’s former patients who accused her of performing an alleged failed operation to increase the size of the client’s butt and called on his Facebook friends to boycott Belo. Scandalous, indecent and offensive pictures and videos are proliferating in Facebook to the prejudice of its users. Illegal use of profile picture is prevalent, anonymous and several fictitious accounts are common. Even president of big companies, politicians and celebrities are not spared, poking fun at them and insulting them for whatever reasons you can imagine. To most of the users, Facebook is a wild wild west of the web, where anyone could register with an email account and express whatever he/she wants. To an oblivious user, this line of thinking would always spell legal trouble. To the readers, please be reminded that Facebook is not an avenue for anarchy.

Just like in any society, every Facebook users have freedom to use it but with the correlative duty to respect the rights of others as well as respect the rights of the State. The rights and responsibilities of a Facebook User are spelled out in Facebook’s Terms and Conditions of Use or "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities."

As warning to Facebook users and would-be users, it is best to read first the Facebook "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" as the same would give them an idea as to the limitations of the use of the networking site.

There are many provisions in the Facebook’s "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" that, when violated by the users, have corresponding criminal liability.

Among them are violations of Section 5 (Protecting Other People’s Rights) Paragraph No. 1. (You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law) such as the use of someone’s picture or poem or essay, and violation of Paragraph No. 6 (You will not use our copyrights or trademarks, or any confusingly similar marks, without our written permission). These are considered violations of Republic Act No. 8293 otherwise known as the "Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines".

If you send or otherwise post unauthorized commercial communications (such as spam) on Facebook, collect users’ content or information, or otherwise access Facebook, using automated means (such as harvesting bots, robots, spiders, or scrapers) without permission, engage in unlawful multi-level marketing, such as a pyramid scheme, upload viruses or other malicious code (Section 3 – Safety Paragraph Nos. 1-5), and the likes, these are violations of Republic Act No. 8792 also known as the "E-Commerce Law" which is punishable by a fine from P100,000 to maximum commensurating to the damage, with imprisonment from 6 months to 3 years. (Section 33, R.A. 8792).

Using your Facebook to "bully, intimidate, or harass any user" will make you liable for violation of appropriate provisions of the Revised Penal Code under the Chapter Crimes Against Security (Threaths and Coercion – Article 282-287) or post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence (Section 3 – Safety Paragraph Nos. 6-7) is also violation of Chapter Two (Offense against Decency and Good Customs – Article 200-201).

Misleading another user in the Facebook such as false pretense of ownership of a vehicle posted for sale have an accompanying criminal liability for Estafa punishable under the Article 315-319 (Swindling and Other Deceits) of the Revised Penal Code, while malicious, libelous and discriminatory posts, comments or shout outs in Facebook are punishable under Article 353-357 (Libel).

On the other hand, Facebook users who accused innocent persons of committing a crime (Article 363 – Incriminating Innocent Persons) or posting intrigue in Facebook with a principal purpose to blemish the honor or reputation of any person, regardless whether a Facebook user or not (Article 364 – Intriguing Against Honor), are also criminal acts punishable by law.

A simple act of poking fun at someone’s picture in Facebook by commenting on it, or editing it, or otherwise re-posting it without permission, have corresponding legal complications which may or may not lead to criminal, civil or administrative violations.

These violations are likewise accompanied by corresponding causes of action for damages, which can be claimed in civil case. While violations of this kind are better redress in court by filing criminal, civil or administrative case against the perpetrators, aggrieved and affected Facebook users are in need of immediate remedy of removal of the offending post in the Facebook site.

Although Facebook administration can unilaterally remove or delete any post, account, picture or video in their website which they believe are violative of the "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities", they have different approach to user’s request for removal or deletion. By way of policy, Facebook administration are not directly entertaining request from Facebook users for removal or deletion of a suspected offensive post, account, picture or video in their website. All such request must be made and coursed through with the appropriate law enforcement agency in the Philippines, which may either be the respective Computer Crimes Division of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) or PNP Crime Detection and Investigation Group (CIDG). These law enforcement agencies are the recognized government body by the Facebook administration to determine the legitimacy of the request. Upon written request of an aggrieved Facebook user, the said law enforcement agency will make a proper investigation on the matter and after establishing probable cause, a request will be forwarded to the Facebook administration for such removal or deletion of the suspected offensive post, account, picture or video in their website.

Facebook is our window to the world, in which we connect, we share and we communicate to other citizens of the world. How we conduct ourselves as Facebook users reflect how we conduct ourselves as Filipinos in the world wide web and it is only by properly using this website and recognizing our rights and responsibilities as user that we can show to the world that we Filipinos are responsible citizens of the world wide web. This article should be an eye opener to all present and future Facebook users to be aware of their rights and responsibilities to avoid any legal complications. If in doubt whether a particular post, picture or video to be posted in Facebook is violative of another person’s right, it is better to consult a lawyer before acting on it.