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Battling virtual mobs

Can the hand of the law keep up with these virtual times?

In this month’s Hot Seat: Thio Shen Yi is joint managing director of local law firm, TSMP Law Corporation.


In this digital age, a mere photo or comment has the power to spark your 15 minutes of fame – or infamy. Finding yourself on the receiving end of malicious comments unleashed by the virtual lynch mob isn’t only cause for emotional distress. Invariably, your reputation and business get dragged through the mud.

If the statements made against you are false, invoking the law of defamation allows you to claim damages from the perpetrator, as well as have him/her retract the current statements, or desist from publishing future defamatory statements.

However, traditional defamation laws appear to be a blunt instrument when it comes to dealing with virtual attacks. “Where social media poses a challenge is the keyboard warrior hiding behind the anonymity of the screen,” explains Thio Shen Yi, joint managing director of TSMP Law Corporation. This is where the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), which came into effect on Nov 15, 2014, proves to be better adapted to the speed and structure of the Internet.

Thio Shen Yi, joint managing director of TSMP Law Corporation

“Unlike a defamation order, Poha has far greater flexibility in terms of service,” says Thio. Poha can be served on the anonymous, via e-mail or social media messaging. From this point, if the perpetrators continue to persist with their actions, they are thought to have violated court orders – a criminal offence punishable by law.

Given that online harassment is still a relatively new realm without an established body of case laws, unmasking the anonymous identities of perpetrators remains an arduous task. While it is possible to obtain a court order to persuade a third-party provider such as Facebook to reveal the IP address behind an avatar, compliance is not always certain.

In a time where news goes viral faster than you can act, you might not find justice served on demand – but, with greater awareness of possible repercussions, the hand behind the hate may pause before it puts fingers to keys.

(RELATED: Leaders need to have charisma, say top Singapore leaders.)

PHOTOGRAPHY Tan Wei Te
ART DIRECTION Chelza Pok
CHAIR Moroso, Paper Planes, Available at Xtra