The advent of the Internet has made the rapid growth and development of economies possible, encouraging transactions even across territorial boundaries. It has made the exchange of ideas and information similarly faster and easier, without discrimination as to the value or content of the data transmitted. Naturally, the world wide web has become the newest form of self-expression. After all, it is a particular form of media which allows for reasonably equal exposure for all users and seemingly unlimited space for all. Indeed, if the number of weblogs and webpages across cyberspace is any indication, the Internet is a veritable abyss of information offered by everyone to anyone, truth and accuracy not guaranteed, of course.
While the Internet is an ideal platform to disseminate vital news, given the extent of its reach, it is just as ideal a platform for one to expound on his or her opinions. Whether it's strong language on the newest State policy, mild comments on the quality of food offered around the metro, or passionate condemnation of the latest showbiz shenanigans, the Internet is often as colorful and unedited as it is anonymous. While the criticism of a million angry bloggers may be understandable, and even acceptable, with reference to a public figure, the anonymity provided by cyberspace is far more sinister with regard to private people.
Whereas public figures submit their lives, to a certain extent, to public scrutiny, private individuals unfairly disparaged are at a greater disadvantage because their reputation and lives are published for the consumption of a global audience. Where anonymity is used as a cloak to spread rumors, or to publicize otherwise confidential information, the Internet becomes a free-for-all arena. Of course, not everyone will read the malicious comments of a vicious critic going by a screen name, but all that is necessary to ruin a reputation is the attention of someone who knows the subject personally.
Indeed, a casual perusal of social networks like Friendster, Pinoyexchange, or our very own peyups.com will easily reveal the extent of rumor-mongering anonymity can engender. Comments on a person's character, romantic history, and sexual behavior--conjectures ordinarily kept to oneself or to a few friends--are posted with abandon as "opinions," nevermind the fact that the online community is composed of the very people with whom the subject under discussion regularly interacts with. Often, it is the victim or his or her friends who has to find ways to redeem him- or herself online, posting lengthy explanations and sometimes, similar strong language. In a country which has criminalized slander and libel as a necessary limit to the freedom of self-expression, there is something distasteful about the victim being forced to fight unknown enemies on their territory and on their own terms.
A person's reputation is just as valuable in the virtual world as it is in reality, perhaps even more so, because one often has no other means to defend his reputation from attackers in cyberspace.There needs to be a system of accountability in the Internet, as in all other fora, or else the "exchange of information" for which the world wide web is prized will be a front for malicious, albeit interesting, allegations. At the very least, forum administrators should zealously monitor their territories, requiring a threshold amount of information from every user before approving membership. The personal information of offensive users should similarly be made available to the victims who may wish to pursue other avenues for holding him or her accountable. Only then will the Internet be a level playing field, and cyberspace approximate the responsible exercise of self-expression.