The digital landscape is one we’ve slowly grown accustomed to; but as more aspects of our lives are conducted online, are we truly aware of all the dangers and risks that exist? In this series of interviews with The Benildean, we relive and recount experiences of cyberbullying and cybercrime. Delve into stories of victims, spectators, and the accused, traversing through the unexplored abyss of the internet.
TIKTOK, Student, 20
“From my standpoint, online anonymity is doing more harm than good. [...] Since they are hiding behind the screen, they express themselves freely without thinking about the impact of their comments and their deeds to other people.”
After her rise to popularity, Tiktok found it difficult to navigate being in the public eye. Having amassed thousands of followers as a content creator on the social networking app TikTok, her short dance videos to viral songs gained immediate traction among users of the site. Yet amidst the praise and attention, she was also receiving malicious comments of sexual nature from various users across her social media pages. “I received unsolicited explicit comments, uninvited messages, inappropriate photos, and lewd jokes,” Tiktok expressed in an interview with The Benildean.
Due to the rampant number of unwarranted advances, Tiktok would engage in a “social media detox” frequently, wherein she would reduce her social media usage for a certain amount of time to recover. She expressed that these “detoxes” helped her recuperate from the prevailing anxiety she would experience from online platforms. She also added that her family, particularly her mother, has kept her anchored and safe during the entire ordeal.
As a victim of online sexual harassment, Tiktok was especially vocal in expressing the dangers of online anonymity and the kind of atmosphere it encourages for those who intend to harm others. According to her, since anonymity masks one’s identity, no one is held accountable.
“[Online anonymity] serves as their tool to harass other people whereas there is no public accountability. Since they are hiding behind the screen, they express themselves freely without thinking about the impact of their comments and their deeds to other people,” she added.
Tiktok also firmly believes that despite there being a risk of bullying and harassment online, people should not be expected to be tough or “thick-skinned” when online. “[...] Putting yourself on social media is not a free pass for other people to give you unsolicited comments and harass you in any way,” she stated, elaborating that social media is meant to serve as a bridge to connect with other people, rather than a medium to oppress them.
She also described the difference between criticism and harassment, pointing out that the former is “advice that serves as a catalyst for us to pursue a better version of ourselves,” while harassment is condemning.
Having established this, Tiktok encourages victims to not engage with harassers and to seek their own justice, whether it be by reporting the incident to the appropriate authorities or finding solace with people they trust. She also asserted that cases of sexual harassment and cyberbullying are never the victim’s fault.
“I encourage you to report the assault, but no matter what your choice is, I stand by your side and I support you. There is no timeline in healing, what you went through is traumatizing, and you should recover at your own pace.”
KAIROS, Student, 20
“...Especially for people who venture out to social media as a career, their audience is composed of different people with different opinions. Not everyone will appreciate or enjoy their content, positive feedback comes with its negative equal parts. However, I don’t agree that it should be this way. Cyberbullying and online harassment should not be normalized.”
For many, social media is an outlet for self-expression and a celebration of individuality and artistry, and it was through dance that Kairos felt most comfortable and confident. However, it was also through social media that she experienced her first incident of cyberbullying and harassment. What started from an ordinary dance video posted online escalated into numerous insults and verbal attacks on Kairos’ appearance. Some even went so far as to offer to engage in a sexual relationship with her, stating that she should even “be grateful” for the profane offer.
Her video had also made the rounds and reached group chats of students from other schools, most of them strangers to Kairos. She would proceed to receive unwarranted direct messages from people who taunted her, which caused her to ultimately mark her social media accounts as private and delete her online videos and pictures.
“I posted that video solely because of my passion for dancing and I never meant any harm to anyone. [...] I never really understood why people would come at me like that,” she said in an interview with The Benildean. It was during this time Kairos had experienced depression, even resorting to self-harm.
It took years for Kairos to become comfortable posting on social media due to the traumatizing experience. However, despite her anxiety, through the constant support of her family and friends, she has slowly returned to posting online.
On the topic of people who hide behind online anonymity to engage in cyberbullying, Kairos expressed that “they’re not scared to harass someone because their anonymity reduces the consequences of their action. Naturally, people are not susceptible to human emotions, therefore, our society is more confident to act [irrationally] without confrontation.”
Having seen the worst side of social media, Kairos also believes that online users such as herself should anticipate harassment and bullying, adding that despite this harsh reality, cyberbullying and online harassment should not be normalized.
Kairos has since begun to speak out for victims who are going through the same experience, assuring them of their self-worth and value. “Looking back, I refuse to be a bystander for other people but I failed in doing that for myself,” she shared.
“Your feelings are valid. Just because others treat it as a small thing, it shouldn’t invalidate how big it was for you. React on it and dwell on it; feel all of the emotion that comes with it. After that, you’ll know how to act upon it. [...] Live your life on your own terms and as long as you’re not stepping on anyone, no one has the right to [dictate] how you should live your life.”
JOHN ANTHONY M. LEGAMIA, Information Security Manager, 32
“Sadly, there are more people who have very [little] knowledge about [data privacy] and other people just won't let this slip and abuse this kind of weakness among Filipinos. Tons of online scams, phishing, hacking, identity theft are scattered across and sadly a lot of Filipinos are still getting victimized, and worst, very few are able to protect us from these virtual threats even though there are already laws related to data privacy in the country.”
For Mr. John Anthony M. Legamia, whose career revolves entirely on data protection and security, the concept of data privacy has evolved drastically throughout the years, with people growing more open to sharing their personal information each year. This case is especially evident in the Philippines, where the country was dubbed as the social media of the capital of the world in 2021. In January 2021, approximately 89 million Filipinos were on social media, a whopping 80.7% of the country’s entire population.
Whether it be jobs, salaries, home addresses, or achievements, Filipinos, in particular, are quick to take advantage of the unlimited access and networking opportunities the internet presents. However, alongside the economic growth brought forth by this age of digitalization comes susceptibility to exploitation and abuse, leaving thousands of Filipinos victims of cybercrimes such as online scams, phishing, hacking, and identity theft yearly.
In an interview with The Benildean, Mr. Legamia stated that anonymity allows people to express themselves more freely without the fear of embarrassment, retaliation, or rejection. Contrastingly, this anonymity is just as capable of breeding manipulation and the spread of misinformation when found in the wrong hands.
He also added that despite the existing sufficient laws that safeguard online data privacy, only a few groups continue to enforce and implement them. The fact that the majority of Filipinos are ill-informed about these laws also exacerbates the situation of cybercrime and harassment.
Regardless of these laws, however, Mr. Legamia shared that users should take it upon themselves to minimize their digital footprint and actively protect their information. “For individual users, it is important to limit the amount of information being shared for public consumption as little as possible,” he advised, emphasizing the importance of remaining aware of any suspicious links, emails, websites, and applications that may be used to collect one’s data. Furthermore, he pointed out that users should never use the same password for all their accounts. This is especially important to avoid a breach of privacy should one account be compromised.
When asked whether there will come a time when information can no longer be private, Mr. Legamia stressed he believes that will never happen. “People need security and at the same time gain control of their data privacy. [...] This is also the reason why there's a high demand for jobs related to cybersecurity because more and more people are leaning towards online platforms and transactions. It is the responsibility of the company or institution to protect their users’ PII (Personal Identifiable Information) from being compromised,” he expressed.
Mr. Legamia affirmed that the rapid development of cybersecurity is directly related to the evolution of cybercrime, and vice versa. Moreover, the hackers’ objectives may also vary over time. Knowing this, professionals such as himself need to be able to anticipate, predict, and identify the nature of cyberattacks. For ordinary users, he encourages them to be more responsible and vigilant, especially regarding sharing information. “Just what they always say, ‘think before you click.’”
DEAN JOHN PAOLO ARANETA VILLASOR, Lawyer / Law Professor,
“...The sad reality in contemporary society is that anonymous speech has been misused, especially with respect to online social engagements. There are individuals who become more brazen in their online activities due to the mere expediency of being “anonymous,” and often, this results in conduct that causes significant psychological harm to others. By being “anonymous,” an individual need not fear any consequence that may arise from committing harmful conduct in cyberspace.”
Dean JP Villasor, Vice Chairman of the Department of Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law in the Philippine Judicial Academy, offered the law’s perspective on cybercrime. Having represented the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance (PIFA) as legal counsel in the very first cyber law case in the Philippines, he shared his experience and opinions on cyberbullying and cyber libel in an interview with The Benildean.
“Given present-day realities, there is a need for a fundamental rethinking of what is acceptable online speech,” Dean Villasor shared regarding social interaction in today’s digital landscape. “Our Civil Code provides that, ‘Every person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.’ This centuries-old provision which traces its origins to Roman law, offers protection from abuse of rights, not just in the real world, but also in the digital space,” he added.
According to an online survey conducted by Statista, Filipinos spend an average of more than 10 hours a day online in 2021, which was the highest out of the other Asian-Pacific countries participating in the survey. This makes Filipinos especially susceptible to the negative aspects of social media and online interaction. “Technology has advanced in more ways that have caused unintended consequences, and have threatened public order through the incendiary nature of the speech or expression published online,” Dean Villasor stated.
Oftentimes, many can find themselves becoming victims to trolls and bullies online, unable to distinguish what some call “jokes” and “criticism” from actual unabridged hate. However, Dean Villasor argues that anonymity and the right to free speech are not enough to protect people from the consequences of their ill-intentioned actions. “As a general rule, anonymous speech is protected by the Constitution, specifically, Section 4 of Article III [...] [which] pertains to lawful anonymous speech online, and not to unlawful acts perpetrated under the cloak of anonymity, which cause harm to others.”
“There are certain types of unlawful conduct or behavior that are not within the mantle of protected speech: cyberbullying, online harassment, cyberstalking, and doxxing, to name a few,” he continued. Dean Villasor also mentioned that while anonymous speech not resulting in the harm of others falls under protected speech, he added that this “may need to be re-evaluated in light of contemporaneous circumstances,” as the line between legitimate and illicit behavior online begins to blur.
“If the speech or expression in the form of a joke or criticism tends to cause imminent lawless action, i.e. violence toward others, that form of speech is not protected, and is therefore subject to the laws on libel.” Moreover, he stated that the view of the law can also change depending on the targeted individual, saying “if the recipient of the speech is a private individual, the law presumes malice. The difference is this: private individuals have reasonable expectations of privacy, while public officials and public figures do not. […] Criticism of public officials or public figures are “occupational hazards” for individuals who have no reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Dean Villasor reinforced that freedom of speech will always be the cornerstone of democracy, however, it should be something that we go about responsibly without causing harm to others. “Freedom of the Internet is the most cherished right in today’s post-modern, pandemic-stricken world enjoyed by all of us. It is our predominant means of expressing ourselves in a world beyond the surreal confines of our quarantined premises. It affords us an opportunity to engage socially in activities that define our very humanity–the need to make human connections.”
RAMBO TALABONG, Journalist, 24
“[Cyber libel] is being used to silence journalists. The people in power have the advantage to abuse it. Journalists do not have the machinery or the connections to influence a case. People in power do.”
Speaking about his first-hand experience with a cyber libel case, Rappler journalist Mr. Rambo Talabong shared that “[...] Cyber libel should really be decriminalized, libel, in general, should be decriminalized in the Philippines because it is being used by politicians and private individuals. [...] It may not lead to convictions, the two times that I have been accused of libel, both have been dismissed and withdrawn, so I am happy about that but, giving the people the opportunity to sue journalists just makes us vulnerable to harassment and also prevents us from doing our jobs,” he stated in an interview with The Benildean.
Mr. Talabong emphasized the plight of journalists in the Philippines, specifically with his experience working for Rappler. “Around 95% of the harassment emails that we get are people who are anonymous, people who are clothing themselves through randomized usernames, people who don't have followers, people who don't follow anybody, and people who just follow Rappler reporters and other journalists so that they could stalk them and even attack them.” He also stated that due to the nature of social media, trolls and shell accounts are difficult to track down and report. Regardless of whether these accounts are removed or suspended, the attacks continue because they are simply able to create new accounts.
Despite this, he believes that the root of the problem lies in anonymity. “Online anonymity… again, it's being used against us by people who are not firm believers of journalism. People who insist on attacking us and those who believe that we can be cowards, that we can stop pursuing journalism just because of their attacks on our comment sections, on our messages, but they are mistaken.”
Mr. Talabong argued that while this may have grown to become an occupational hazard for journalists, “there is too much anonymity for trolls, for people who hate on journalism, people who are harassing journalists. There should be a law that would penalize these people harassing journalists. And there should be protection for journalists when we use social media sites.”
When asked if social media websites should be putting more effort into fighting disinformation, Mr. Talabong agreed, adding that “ [...] It shouldn't just be Facebook, but all social media sites. Where there is information, there is disinformation. People who have control of the flow of information have the responsibility to filter it or at least foster a system that can allow users to easily spot what is fake and what is true.”
“Disinformation campaigns are overwhelming our fact-checking team and even I have to write stories to clarify what has been circulating online as false. It drains energy that could have been better used for enterprise stories,” he disclosed.
He also emphasized the importance of solidarity in the world of journalism, expressing that “Journalists need to collaborate. We should not see each other as competition but genuinely as colleagues that see that an attack on one is an attack against all of us.”
Mr. Talabong left a few inspiring words for those looking to fight against the flow of disinformation through journalism, “Keep reporting. Your stories will speak for what you stand for. This is not biased. Our job is not to be objective, but to accept that we are human, that we know what is right and what is wrong, and that our stories must be on the right.”
This article is also published in The Benildean Volume 8 Issue No. 1: Redacted.