Cheap speech in social media

Posted by watchmen
March 25, 2024


By Ade Fajardo

In an en banc decision made public last week, the Supreme Court held former Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy guilty of contempt of court for red-tagging a Manila trial court judge.

The judge rendered a decision in September 2022 denying a petition filed by the Department of Justice seeking a declaration that the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army are terrorists under the Human Security Act.

Badoy reacted by posting statements on the internet that red-tagged the judge. She alleged that the judge’s husband used to be a cadre of the CPP-NPA who helped her craft the decision in favor of the communist movement.



Lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court to declare Badoy in contempt, who defended herself by invoking her constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression.

Justice Marvic Leonen, who penned the Supreme Court decision, wrote that Badoy’s online statements were malicious because it was apparent that she did not act with an honest sense of duty or with a genuine desire to help in the administration of justice.

She was rather impelled by an odious motive, “which was to stir discontent among her audience.” Badoy’s claim of good faith is belied by her use of violent and abrasive language against the judge.



Which is not to say that the judiciary is immune from public criticism. Members of the judicial branch are funded with public money and are no less accountable to the people who repose trust in their fair judgments.

In fact, litigants are encouraged to report judicial misconduct because it helps ensure that judges conduct themselves properly, always with an eye towards the efficient administration of justice.

However, statements that cross the line — those that recklessly embellish fake news with seditious commentary may not be shielded from prosecution by mere invocation of the right to free speech.



The Supreme Court decision reflects on the modern reality of disinformation and fake news spreading exponentially at the mere strike of the computer keyboard.

A derogatory social media post can destroy someone’s reputation within his immediate circle, cause a mob to lynch someone of a different religious belief, or even start a revolution that can change the fate of an entire nation.

The increased ability to publish content through the internet is not matched by most people’s capacity to discern the truthfulness or accuracy of the messages relayed.



Negativity bias has won elections in this country. Candidates who publicly subscribe to the right to be heard and the right to due process have suffered big losses at the polls.

The internet has fueled the candidacies of populist leaders who promise to rule with an iron fist. An impoverished society grown weary of the uneven scales of justice are only too happy to embrace a politician who can boldly deliver on illegal shortcuts that can instill fear and restore order.



The Court laments that the democratization of ideas through access to the internet has led to cheap speech, which has in turn led to abuses of the freedoms of speech, expression, and the press./WDJ


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