We find ourselves in disagreement with those who say Belize does not have the laws needed to go after people who use social media for publishing vulgar and scurrilous material about persons.
The existing law against libel and slander can work equally well for the social media as it does for newspapers, radio and television. It may not be the best fit for this day and age, but it can work because Facebook and other social media are in fact, publishing media, and the law of publication applies to them just as surely as it applies to newspapers, radio and television.
Recently we saw a high profile case of a Minister of Government who sued his political adversary for using television to say something scandalous about him. So what’s the difference between Facebook and TV? Both are electronic publications used to convey news and information to the public! If television information can be regarded as scandalous and liable to civil prosecution, why stop short when it comes to Facebook and other social media?
We acknowledge that offences like libel and scandal are no longer regarded as criminal offences, and on those grounds perhaps the Police Department may find itself handicapped. But there are other agencies of the government which can and should take up the cudgels against blackguards and scumbags who use cyberspace to humiliate and destroy the reputation of women and young girls.
The right to privacy and the right to protect one’s reputation from scurrilous accusations hold true for the traditional media as well as the new social media. These are rights protected by our Constitution. We should not have to wait for new legislation to go after perverts who use the social media to degrade and humiliate women and underage girls.
In a recent case which provoked public outrage an unidentified person used Facebook to post a photograph of a teenage girl showing her face and uncovered breasts. The words accompanying the photo said the girl was applying for a job as a prostitute.
The message was a gross calumny! Nothing in it was true. It was posted on Facebook with bad intentions, to degrade and humiliate the girl and to ruin her prospects in life.
In cases like these a designated agency of the government (or some women’s organization) should be authorized to launch a civil suit against the person or persons responsible for the offending post. In cases like these courts are known to require substantial fines for libel and slander. If the convicted person is unable to pay the fine, he or she will go to jail.
This process is a little more complicated than the straightforward criminal action that the police would take, but in the end the result can be quite satisfying. No girl or woman should be subject to scurrilous cyber attacks in our country, and those public officials who are the guardians of our rights and liberties – are the courts, the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions.