Journalist sues Facebook owner for red-taggers’ info

COMPLAINT VS META. Journalist Cong Corrales is filing a complaint with the National Privacy Commission to compel Meta to disclose info about those who red-tagged Cong. He is accompanied by his lawyers from Movement Against Disinformation & NUJP Chairperson Jonathan de Santos. (Photo courtesy of Movement Against Disinformation)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

A journalist from Mindanao on Friday petitioned the country’s lead body on data privacy to obtain information on the social media accounts that have been alleging him as a communist rebel.

Community journalist Leonardo “Cong” Corrales, editor-in-chief of the Mindanao Gold Star Daily based in Cagayan De Oro City, filed a complaint with the National Privacy Commission (NPC) against Meta to provide data from Facebook on anonymous accounts which red-tagged him online.

Red-tagging is the act of associating a person or entity against their will with the communist movement.

In the Philippine context, this pertains to the practice of branding persons or organizations as members or affiliates of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its wings, the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front.

Corrales was joined at the NPC’s office by his counsels from the Movement Against Disinformation (MAD), a broad coalition of lawyers and press freedom and protection advocates, “organized to prevent and stop the systematic and unregulated spread of disinformation.”

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) national chairperson Jonathan De Santos also joined Corrales and MAD.

In his complaint, Corrales alleged that Meta failed to observe his right to access when it denied his request for information on Facebook accounts that red-tagged him.

He anchored his complaint on Section 16(c) of Republic Act No. 10173 (Data Privacy Act of 2012), which provides the data subject, in this case, Corrales, with the right to “reasonable access, upon demand, of the names and addresses of the recipients of [his] personal information.”

The suit was also based on the NPC’s 2020 case of BGM vs. IPP, where the commission ruled that the right of access under Section 16(c) of Rep. Act No. 10173 could be exercised even without a court order, particularly when the information is needed to identify the perpetrator and establish one’s legal claims.

In a press release, MAD said that the retrieval of the information would lead to Corrales’ actual filing of legal action against the owners of the accounts.

“This will benefit other journalists and truthtellers who have been red-tagged. We are confident that we have a strong basis for this case,” the press statement quoted Atty. Rico Domingo, Corrales’ lead counsel, as saying.

Speaking to the press after filing the case, Corrales said he hopes that this would deter other anonymous accounts from red-tagging him, other journalists, and Filipinos in general.

“I hope that this would pave the way for others, not just journalists but also Filipino citizens who have been maligned and slandered through social media platforms here in the Philippines. This would offer a clear way to combat red-tagging and libelous posts, specifically on Facebook,” he said.

De Santos said that they hope the case would address the problem of anonymous accounts’ unrestricted liberties in making false accusations, especially in the context of red-tagging.

De Santos himself and his news organization were also the target of red-tagging by former Iloilo City hall aide Jeffrey Celiz in a television program last week.

“We have been condemning the practice of red-tagging because it is dangerous, but one of the problems was how to hold [red-taggers] accountable. We’re thankful to [MAD] and to Cong in their bravery to find a way to possibly go after red-taggers,” said De Santos.

“It’s easy to accuse [someone] especially if [you] are [an] anonymous [account], and you think you might not get caught, but hopefully this time we could find a way to hold them liable,” he added.

One of Corrales’ counsels, lawyer Ernesto Neri, stated via Zoom that one of the purposes of the case was to prevent Facebook account users from making further malicious accusations against the journalist.

He mentioned that Corrales had sought Facebook’s help to identify the owners of the accounts, but was told that he could not do so without a court order, hence the reliance on the BGM vs. IPP case.

“The problem here is, is that you can take down all those posts because Facebook has its own mechanism in filtering and evaluating posts, but the question is, who will stop them from creating another account and posting red-tagging again [as] another poster? The problem here is we don’t know whom to charge with libel because we don’t know who actually posted it,” Neri explained.

In addition to the availing of the FB accounts’ information, Corrales is also seeking multiple damages totaling ₱20 million, including ₱10 million in nominal damages, ₱5 million in exemplary damages, and ₱5 million in moral damages.