Saturday, October 13, 2012


ADOLESCENCE is not only maddening. Try understanding an adolescent on cyberspace.

My nieces in Australia mailed me their photos. That is, their mother/my sister got them to turn over their school snapshots to store in my wallet. A tone of duress wafts from one note written at the back of a photo.

Rory, 5, writes: “Dear Nanay and I will be your best firend Love love Rory Rory”. Nana, 15, is terse: “Dear Nanay, the photo needs no explanation. I ask that you refrain from showing this picture Love, Joanna”.

Beauty perhaps means differently at certain stages. Still nestling at the cusp of childhood, my younger niece is self-possessed. She smiles at the world, confident that it is beaming back at her.

A young woman loses the dew of openness. Framed by old man’s glasses, Nana’s eyes yet hold a glimpse of the child I first saw in my sister’s arms, later carting armloads of books and a puppy, and last seen up close afloat in the other world of “Twilight”.

I take my lovely girls and mystification to another teenager. My son Carlos, 19, directs me to Nana’s Facebook page. I “like” her profile picture but have to wrestle with my son, who tries to prevent me from leaving a comment.

I succeed. I post: “Hi, Nana!” I want to add more but feel tongue-tied in the company of Aratrika, Parth, Breanna, Sehar, Sherridan and Nana’s other friends who “like” her photo, too, but don’t leave a note.

Now I notice I am the only one who does (where is my sister?).

When Carlos sees my pallid, short-for-me note, he groans with all the what-have-you-done ominousness only a teenager can muster. From his raving, I gather that I might have mortified poor Nana until the next century, irrevocably trespassed some digital divide invisible to oldies but glaring like neon-sprayed disaster to the young.

I bluster. Doesn’t “hi” still mean “hello” on cyberspace? Why would I cyberbully a girl I love as a daughter?

My son only gives me a look. I feel like I’ve suddenly sprouted wild facial hair and spouted even wilder notions of truth and fairness like a certain favorite senator.

For the first time, I step into the shoes of those who see the virtual world as chaos waiting to be unleashed. Where the familiar and pedestrian, like windows and traffic, can become altered and new, and a slip can open a vein to stir up all frenzies.

To create order from this disorder, the temptation is to impose: pass a cybercrime prevention law that dangerously sweeps, along with 16 other cybercrimes like cybersex and child trafficking (as tabulated by Janette Toral of, the constitutionally protected right of freedom of self-expression, as well as right to privacy, with a murkily defined cyberlibel.

Protesting hacktivists, Netizens and 15 Supreme Court (SC) petitions may have won a reprieve when, six days after Republic Act 10175 took effect, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order that puts the law on hold until early next year.

Issues raised by the controversy—the definition and penalties of cyberlibel, as well as the manner by which this clause was “inserted” and the law passed without public hearing—should continue to engage us. How do we protect ourselves from the unscrupulous that will misuse quickly evolving digital technologies to invade privacy, steal identities, exploit gullibility? How do we ensure we don’t abuse the Web?

At the same time, with reason, we suspect that applying traditional means to control a new medium following new logic makes us vulnerable to the evils we swore never to let loose again: repression, dictatorship, chaos, death of society.

To break the impasse, many demand authorities consult stakeholders. Others call for online self-regulation and digital media literacy.

Adolescence and cyberspace are so much alike. Both are constantly shifting. It’s a maddening thing, sure. But the only way out is to go through it.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 14, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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