pop goes the world: we the people

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  4 October 2012, Thursday

We the People

Since last Monday, avatars on Facebook and Twitter have been turning black one by one, like stars in the sky winking out.

With the Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Law coming into effect yesterday, netizens are reacting in various ways to register their sentiments.

The smiling photos of some friends and tweeps morphed into black squares, which is self-explanatory, the color itself connotative of mourning and loss. Others redacted words or phrases from their status updates, citing “RA 10175”.

As the movement gained momentum, other people put up images that symbolize concepts such as dissent, struggle against oppression, and rebellion against totalitarianism.

Among these symbols is the Guy Fawkes mask. The mask is white with red cheeks, a mustache, and slim pointed beard, a mere stripe upon the chin. The mask was used as a plot element by writer Alan Moore in his 1982-85 graphic novel series V for Vendetta, later made into a movie. The film is perceived by some to refer to a society’s oppression by government. The Guy Fawkes mask was used by hacktivist group Anonymous and by activists in the Occupy movement in the United States as a symbol against repression and tyranny.

Another symbol appearing on social media avatars is the red “forbidden” sign (a circle with a slash within), often accompanied by text such as “Cyber Martial Law”; there’s also an image of Rizal with black tape across his mouth.

These and others are used as signs of protest against the loss of freedom of speech that many fear is heralded by the Cybercrime Law.

Says a lawyer whose profile picture is the Guy Fawkes mask: “I don’t like people dictating my personal choices. There are things I can say and express within the bounds of the law, then it is made illegal, which violates Article 3, Section 4 of the Constitution – “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press…” This is contained in our Bill of Rights.”

Says an almost-lawyer, represented on FB by a black square: “As it is, the libel law in the Revised Penal Code is already questionable because it provides jail time for what is basically a civil offense – so you can go to jail for saying someone’s stupid. Libel is between two people, not the state.”

Other signs of outrage erupted online. Hacktivists calling themselves “PrivateX” have entered ten government and private websites so far, posting various messages, one of them beginning, “This domain name associated with gov.ph has been seized pursuant to an order issued by Anonymous Philippines…”

Among the affected websites were those of the Office of the President, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, Philippine Anti-Piracy Team, National Telecommunications Commission, Philippine Information Agency, American Chamber of Commerce, and the Food Development Center.

The Philippine National Police said it was victimized by hackers who created a false FB page for it, with status updates such as “Foul words against our police officers can be used as evidence now to file a case against you in a court of law.” The page can no longer be accessed.

This image appeared on FB earlier this week. PNP claims it is a fake page.

Other netizens put up the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance or pifa.ph almost immediately, a “website blackout protest” with this call: “Respect our right to free speech, privacy, and information. Prevent dictatorship. Protect democracy.”

Screenshot of home page of pifa.ph. 

A celebrity made this clever statement: he posted a picture of himself holding up a sign with his name on it, and below that the words, “Future Cybercriminal? RA 10175.” Other famous people took to Twitter to express their points-of-view, either for the repeal of the bill or its revision.

The Cybercrime Law has been likened to SOPA (Stop the Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) in the United States, which people protested against by blacking out their websites or entire chunks of text and content.

In July 2010, Senator Francis Escudero filed a bill decriminalizing libel. However, he was among those who signed the Cybercrime Law, and is backpedaling by filing Senate Bill No. 3288 to repeal it, admitting he did not notice the libel provision.

Senator TG Guingona, who opposed the law, filed a petition with the Supreme Court urging that the provisions pertaining to libel in the Cybercrime Law be declared unconstitutional, and warned the public that this law would suppress freedom of speech.

“The state has no right,” he said, “to gag its citizens and convict them for expressing their thoughts… Filipinos should never be left to cower in the sidelines – their thoughts and voices should not be shackled by fear and intimidation. The people should not be afraid of its own government.”

When it is government itself that curtails freedom of speech in any manner; when government itself imposes an atmosphere of fear; when government itself suppresses a fundamental right of humans, then it is acting contrary to the interest of the people and its own survival as an entity.

And when a people feel their rights are curtailed, when they become fearful and angry, when their outrage boils over, then they are moved to action.

And with action follows change.

Here’s a quote from the film “V for Vendetta”: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” *** 

Guy Fawkes mask image here.

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