‘Online trolls’ may face imprisonment

Mayen Jaymalin - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Here’s a warning to “online trolls.”

Sowing lies in social media that may derail or affect the conduct of the coming May 9 elections can lead to imprisonment.

Speaking at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay, election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said yesterday those who may be found guilty of spreading rumors and gossip online would be held liable for election offense.

Under the Omnibus Election Code, Macalintal said propagating false and alarming reports to disrupt or obstruct the election process or cause confusion is considered an election offense.

Macalintal said the law provides one to six years imprisonment and loss of right to vote for those who would be charged and found guilty of an election violation.

He admitted that the Comelec and other concerned government agencies might have difficulty identifying the so-called online trolls since they usually use fictitious names.

But Macalintal said the National Bureau of Investigation was able to trace and arrest the person behind the recent hacking of the Comelec website, thus it could identify online trolls.

He added the Comelec should issue a warning to online users against spreading false information or they would be sanctioned for election offense.

He said candidates who are being maligned in social media can resort to filing legal action.

The Comelec earlier said those spreading rumors of cheating in the ongoing overseas voting in social media can be charged with an election offense.

Comelec Commissioner Arthur Lim said elections should be taken seriously and not be treated as a joke by anyone in social media.

As this developed, the Comelec warned candidates anew against violating regulations on election propaganda.

Under the Fair Elections Act, the Comelec said, the maximum size of advertisements for each national or local candidate or registered political party or party-list group will be one-fourth page in broadsheets and one-half page in tabloids.

Comelec said print advertisement, whether purchased or given free of charge, shall be published thrice a week per newspaper, magazine or other publication during the campaign period.

There are candidates who are blatantly violating the regulating and coming out with oversize print ads.

But Comelec spokesman James Jimenez clarified that candidates are allowed to exceed one-fourth page size limit but they still have to comply with the aggregate ads.                                   

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