[EDITORIAL] #AnimatED: Time to stand up to Duterte’s online bullies

If you’ve experienced being harassed and threatened online, you know that the fears are not imagined. They are recurring and magnified by the frequency and viciousness of the attacks from complete strangers, faceless people you don’t even know.

Jover Laurio, a law student who is behind the Pinoy Ako Blog (PAB), was compelled to shed her anonymity on Friday the 13th, after the threats to her person became nasty, ugly, and full of hate. As she recounted during a Rappler Talk interview, she had been the target of death threats and humiliation online.

Ingungudngud kita sa semento ’pag nakita kita (I’ll press your face to the cement when I see you)” and “’Pag nakasalubong kita, patay ka sa ‘kin (If I bump into you, you’re dead)” were among the threats.

The plague of cyberbullying in all forms continues to this day, happening on social media platforms, digital devices and mobile phones, and even email. All attacks have the sole intent to harm, humiliate, destroy reputations, intimidate, and even disrupt – if not destroy – lives.

Talk about disruption as a result of online abuse. Laurio has had to file a leave of absence from both work and law school. It’s unbelievable how blogging, a seemingly harmless way of exercising freedom of speech and expression, could radically alter one’s life and turn things upside down.

For sure, Laurio is neither the first nor the only one in recent days to have been abused online. Neither has she been the only one forced out of anonymity. Before the Senate hearing on fake news, where PAB was mentioned by Thinking Pinoy’s RJ Nieto, she was cloaked with anonymity and she unabashedly criticized the Duterte administration for its excesses and abuses. What motivated her to blog? Simply the desire to speak up about extrajudicial killings, weeping mothers left behind by murdered sons suspected of dealing with illegal drugs. Not in her wildest imagination did she expect to be attacked and shamed online.

What motivates the pro-Duterte bloggers to spit out such vitriol and trash online? They say it’s for the sake of the country, to protect the President and allow him to govern without having to battle with negativism from both the media and the opposition. They’re entitled to speak up in whatever manner they wish – freedom of speech is a favorite defense – but the trash talk is something else, certainly not befitting so-called defenders of the President. But then again, the President sets the bar so low for hate speech.

What fuels the hate and the toxicity? It’s the sense of entitlement and power, of being backed and supported by those in power. “What are we in power for?” the haters seem to gloat. Power entitles them to be arrogant and shameless, supposedly for love of country and patriotism. There is an obfuscated justification for the cruelty, the crassness, and profanity online.

Being appointed to positions in government has made no impact on behavior online. Rather than becoming more circumspect with posts, making sure they are correct and factual, or that they do not denigrate or malign, some of the pro-Duterte bloggers have become even more arrogant and defiant – riding on the coattails of the President. As if this were not enough, they have also made a profit for themselves, making a living out of destroying people’s names.

The way these attacks have become ordinary and everyday is totally unacceptable. These are abnormal and should not be the norm. Freedom of speech does not equate to trampling on the reputation and the rights of others. It was never intended to be abused.

These bullies have had their way for some time now only because not enough people have challenged them. They dominate because not enough have come forward to refute and oppose them – precisely because of the power they seem to wield on account of the President and the powers of his office.

Laurio is among those who have courageously spoken up, choosing to stubbornly stand by what is factual and right – even at great cost to her safety.

At a time when distortions of truth and moral standards abound, it would do good for the nameless and the faceless online to emerge and be heard. – Rappler.com