Yesterday, a former student of mine was unfairly and maliciously accused of touching and squeezing (“kumot”) someone’s butt. The lady, instead of having her complaint against my student lodged before a proper forum, used her Facebook wall to denigrate my student and picture him as if he is the most disgusting, sex-crazed individual to have ever walked in Cebu, subjecting my former student to public humiliation by having his picture and ID uploaded on her Facebook wall.
The public post immediately went viral, and by last night had about 200+ shares, thousands of likes, and hundreds of comments. Worse, comments favorable to my student were routinely deleted, and friends of the accused blocked from her wall. Also last night, a page with millions of followers picked up the story and mirrored the post verbatim, including the pictures of my student.
This morning, the supposed harassed woman deleted her post. Just a few minutes before I composed this post, I sent a message to the administrator of the page with millions of followers, asking them to take down the mirror post, and it is now deleted.
But the damage to the reputation of my student can never be deleted.
ANATOMY OF THE ALLEGATIONS
I still have a copy of the original post of the alleged harassed woman, saved in one of those archiving sites on the Internet, and therefore my statements below are all based on the actual words posted by the allegedly harassed woman.
According to her, my student was walking AHEAD of her but allegedly looked to her direction and waited for her. Allegedly, when she was about to pass by where he was standing, my student allegedly walked towards her, come closer to her, and squeezed (“nanghikap sa akong lubot gkumot pa sa boang”) her butt.
Still according to the lady, she was shaking; she did not understand what she was feeling; she felt blank.
And yet she apparently had the presence of mind to take pictures of my student, including his ID, while an older man held my student.
Such allegations, on its face, to any reasonable person, are incredible:
1. If he waited for her, and when she came closer to him, he allegedly walked towards her (“pagka duol nako kung asa sha ga barug nikalit shag lakaw towards me”) how could he touch and squeeze her butt? (“sikit jd sha ug nidasmag sabay nanghikap sa akong lubot gkumot pa sa boang”). That requires some dexterity on the part of any person to touch and squeeze somebody’s butt when that he is walking AWAY from the direction of the butt.
2. If she indeed did not know what to do, she felt blank, she certainly has a very clear presence of mind to take clear, focused pictures of the alleged harasser.
BUT SOCIAL MEDIA BIT IT
Nevertheless, despite the clear inconsistencies in the story of the alleged victim, social media made the story viral.
The post trended through the day, so much so that by late evening, it was already picked up by one of the influencer pages in the Philippine Facebook scene.
Now, I might be biased here, but I’ve known that student of mine for a semester, and although he was not the best in the class, he always came across to me as a sensible, responsible student who had plans for his future. As I was almost always assigned to a class of working students, I’ve always thought of him as a working student (although I had never confirmed that), for which reason I excuse him for the occasional apparent lack of prepration in coming to class. It was only after this controversy that I knew that he already had a wife and child(ren) too.
It was therefore a very big surprise for me why a student with a promising future would commit such act, in full view of the rush of men and women off to work. I know, lust is no respecter of place, but common sense would tell us that unless someone is absolutely sick in the head, he would not squeeze someone’s butt in public, esp. when he is graduating from college and may be applying with the police force anytime soon.
The simpler explanation of things is that there may have been an accidental contact of the student’s hand with the lady’s butt, in the rush of people off to work. No big deal, but the lady made a big deal out of it, choosing to post it on Facebook, instead of bringing it before a proper forum.
CONDEMNATION IS NOT EVIDENCE
Social media people were quick to condemn the alleged harasser. In the original post, comments in favor of the alleged harasser was routinely deleted, and those who comment in favor banned. But it was all the lady’s allegations, without an iota of evidence to back it up. No sworn statement. No police report. No CCTV footage.
If she had evidence, she should have brought it before the proper forum. If she could make a criminal case out of it, then the prosecutor’s office. But she choose to be lazy and just condemn someone through her Facebook wall, without giving him a chance to air his side. Even my student’s attempt to explain his side via private message was prevented, with the lady simply blocking his account.
Worse, it quickly became an attack on a certain school and a certain group of students, because my student was wearing the uniform of an intern.
But condemnation, in and by itself, is not evidence. Worse, by condemning my student, exposing him to public ridicule, the lady exposed herself for possible indictment for online libel, or at least unjust vexation in relation to the cybercrime law (yes, such a crime do exist; I had had someone arrested for that crime in fact).
The lady must have realized her mistake this morning, with her deletion of her Facebook post. But the smearing of my student’s reputation cannot be deleted anymore.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?
The power of ordinary citizens like us to broadcast our thoughts to a potentially unlimited audience is now possible, through social media. But such power carries with it a certain responsibility. After all, we are still a country of laws. Our interactions with each other through social media, even with the relative anonymity and ephemeral character of the Internet, are still subject to certain rules. The least we could do is to be more circumspect with our posts. No matter how angry we are, no matter how righteous we feel, we must always remember to be on the side of decency and presumption of innocence.
And also, if we don’t to be sued for libel, to make sure at least one element is lacking, as in this post, where there is no particularity as to who I am referring to. Nevertheless, if the concerned individual wants to file for libel, my contact details are on my profile page.