8chan Founder, Who Has Denounced The Site, Now Facing 'Criminal Cyberlibel' Charges From Current Owner

from the oh-come-on dept

Fredrick "Hotwheels" Brennan founded 8chan in 2013 after he and a group of other fairly naive souls felt that 4chan (yes, 4chan) had become too unfriendly to "free speech" because it had started to block some harassment and abuse on the site. It's always amazing to me the people who insist that internet platforms should allow all speech, without recognizing that what they are asking for is inevitably a cesspool of garbage. Brennan eventually realized as much, relinquished control over the site to Jim Watkins, and even called for the site to be shut down and criticized Watkins. Back in November, Watkins responded by filing a criminal "cyberlibel complaint" in the Philippines. The latest news, from the Filipino site Rappler, is that warrant has been issued for Brennan's arrest.

There are so many insane things about this, it's difficult to know where to start. First of all, I'm always perplexed by people who position themselves as free speech absolutists then suing people for libel. It seems to kind of prove that they don't actually believe what they claim to, and have no problem using the powers of the state to silence speech they dislike.

Second, the whole idea of criminal libel -- let alone the "cyber" variety -- seems positively insane, though we've seen it used before in the Philippines, including against Rappler founder, Maria Ressa. At the very least, it would seem to go against Section 4 of the Filipino Bill of Rights, which states:

No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

Even the comments that Brennan made, that Watkins has filed these claims over, seem pretty ridiculous. Brennan had tweeted "My theory that Jim Watkins himself is going senile and actually believes in Q is no longer a theory" after it was reported that Watkins was wearing a "Q" pin when testifying before Congress. Calling someone senile would not be libel in the US, and the idea that it would be criminal makes no sense at all.

Brennan happens to be in the US at this time and apparently has decided not to return to the Philippines (where both he and Watkins live) as long as the charges remain in place.

The surprise decision means that Brennan, who is confined to a wheelchair and suffers from a condition known as brittle bone disease, could face up to 12 years in prison.

“It’s basically a death sentence,” Brennan told VICE News from Los Angeles.

His lawyers have filed an appeal of the indictment, which is a fascinating read on its own. It opens with a Voltaire quote: "I may utterly detest what you write, but I shall fight to the death to make it possible for you to continue writing it." And then states:

VOLTAIRE'S PONTIFICAL VERSE bestirs once again the basic liberties to free speech and free press -- liberties that belong as well, if not more, to those who question, who do not conform, who differ. For the ultimate good which we all strive to achieve for ourselves and our posterity can better be reached by a free exchange of ideas, where the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the free market -- not just the ideas we desire, but including those thoughts we despise.

RESPONDENT-APPELLANT FREDRICK ROBERT BRENNAN ("Respondent"), by counsel, most respectfully files this APPEAL/PETITION FOR REVIEW ("Appeal") to the Honorable Secretary of Justice to REVERSE AND SET ASIDE the highly arbitrary, completely baseless, grossly unjustified and manifestly erroneous RESOLUTION of the investigating prosecutor Juliene Raymond A. Cabanacan, acting as Assistant City Prosecutor of Pasig City ("ACP Cabanacan"), dated January 02, 2020 ("Resolution), copy was received by the undersigned counsel on February 19, 2020, finding probable cause for the offense of cyber libel against respondent.

For lack of attention to detail, ACP Cabanacan erroneously cited an incorrect provision of cyberlibel under RA 10175. He cited Section 4 paragraph 4 as an offense that has been violated by respondent. This is defective and is not the correct provision on Cyberlibel in RA 10175.

It goes on from there, but the presentation here is quite fascinating -- from the Voltaire quote to the "most respectfully" immediately followed by "highly arbitrary, completely baseless, grossly unjustified and manifestly erroneous" bit. One would hope that the DOJ would rethink this, but given what little we've seen of how this bizarre cyberlibel law is enforced in the Philippines, I wouldn't hold out much hope.

Filed Under: criminal, cyberlibel, defamation, fredrick brennan, free speech, jim watkins, libel, phillippines
Companies: 8chan

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  1. identicon
    Max, 29 Feb 2020 @ 6:03am

    And it's always amazing to me the people who insist that internet platforms should censor an arbitrarily defined cesspool of garbage never seem to realize that this never stops until it's full-on censorship of everything that might possibly offend anyone, aka nothing but anodyne trash, hiding behind the worn-out "we don't have to allow anything, we're a private forum!".

    I have no more wish than you to read most of that cesspool - but there are no mid-stops on that slope; and forums requiring me to wear a muzzle controlled by some inevitably power-tripping mod look to me like the worse of the two outcomes, especially when there is no real choice of some mythical "other platforms" and the real choice is only between being silenced on the de-facto sole option available or not being heard at all.

    (Note: none of this is meant as specific to 8chan in particular - they certainly don't make it easy for anyone to defend them; it's just what happens everywhere every time in the long run, and I don't see it serving anyone's interest beyond the short-sighted "read no evil, therefore the problem is solved!" approach)

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