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12-Year Imprisonment, P200,000-Fine Sought For Trolls, Fake Account Users

12-Year Imprisonment, P200,000-Fine Sought For Trolls, Fake Account Users
Drawing of laptop computer screens that display information icon and fictionalized depictions of online ‘trolls’ and ‘bots.’ AP graphic

With the proliferation of trolls, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon proposed a quick solution to unmask them and fight anonymity in cyberspace by requiring real name and phone number upon creation of social media accounts.


Drilon introduced this provision in Senate Bill No. 2395 or the proposed SIM Card Registration Act, which the Senate passed on third reading on Thursday, Dec. 16. The bill mandates the ownership registration of all SIM cards in the country to “deter the proliferation of SIM card, internet or electronic   communication-aided crimes, such as, but not limited to terrorism; text scams; unsolicited, indecent or obscene messages; bank fraud; libel; anonymous online defamation; trolling; hate speech, spread of digital disinformation or fake news.”


Drilon expanded the measure to include the social media sector.


“This new provision will prevent anyone from making anonymous accounts online. We have to cure trolls that are spreading as fast as the virus that we are battling today. Troll is a virus that hides behind anonymity and continues to spread nothing but hatred and disinformation,” Drilon said.


Section 5 of the proposed measure, which Drilon introduced, states that “all social media account providers shall require real-name and phone number upon creation of account.”


“This provision is a solution to the anonymity that provides the environment for trolls and other malicious attacks to thrive in the age of social media,” he added.


With Drilon’s proposal to include social media in the proposed measure, trolls will soon face up to 12 years of imprisonment or a fine of up to P200,000 or both, along with those who use fictitious identities to register their SIM card.


Drilon said the practice of requiring a phone number to create an online account is already being done by other email providers such as Google’s Gmail where a number is required for the implementation of a two-step verification procedure.


The Philippines is home to millions of troll accounts. In 2019, “Facebook took down a network of accounts that were engaged in inauthentic behavior, Drilon noted.


He added the proliferation of trolls gave rise to suspicions of state-sponsored troll farms, especially that even the Commission on Audit flagged the Presidential Communications Operations Office for hiring hundreds of “contract of service” personnel, which was way above the total number of its regular employees. 


Section 10 of the bill provides the penalties, including for using or using fictitious identities to register SIM cards and social media accounts. The provision states: “The penalty of imprisonment ranging from six (6) months and one (1) day to twelve (12) years, or a fine of up to two hundred thousand pesos (P200,000.00), or both, shall be imposed upon anyone who uses a fictitious identity to purchase and register a SIM card or social media account.”


Drilon also proposed that social media providers, apart from telecommunication sector, shall be required to provide information obtained in the registration process only upon the issuance of a subpoena of a competent authority pursuant to an investigation of a sworn complaint that a specific mobile number or social media account was or is being used in the commission of a crime.


Meanwhile, vice presidential aspirant and Sen. Francis Pangilinan stressed the need for stronger measure against fake food orders, jobs and other forms of disinformation online.

During the Senate hearing on the proliferation of fake news in social media platforms, the senator listed instances when digital technology was used to scam ordinary Filipino.

“Last month, several Filipinos received via text fake job offers offering high salaries. Some even purport to be from large companies,” he said.

He also noted the latest hacking incident involving BDO account holder, saying these highlight the need for interventions through legislation or tighter controls by telecommunications companies or corporations involved in digital technology.

Former Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio proposed amendment to existing laws to make social media platforms more accountable.

"I propose that existing law be amended so that malice is presumed on the part of the online publishers if they allow fake or fictitious users to post on their platforms libelous comments against public officials or public figures," Carpio said.

"The burden of proving malice is on the libeled public officials or public figures. The law must be amended so that malice is presumed on the part of the publisher if the libelous comment is made by a fake or fictitious person. But until the law is amended, online platforms operating in the Philippines are not bothered by libel suits for comments posted by their fake, fictitious users,” he added. – With Janvic Mateo