The Ecuadoran government has proposed legal changes to punish libel disseminated over social networks like Twitter or Facebook, a top official said Wednesday.

Alexis Mera, President Rafael Correa's secretary for legal affairs, said the move aimed not to control content on social networks, but to extend to them the same rules that apply to other media.

"The same penalty that exists for defamation in the communications media, or in any other situation, is applicable in cases of defamation on social networks," Mera said.

Under Ecuador's penal code, slanderous libel, which involves a false accusation of a crime, carries a punishment of between six months and two years in prison.

Libel that simply impugns a person's honor is considered a lesser offense with lighter penalties.

The proposal, which has been presented to a congressional committee, comes against a backdrop of hostile relations between Correa and the country's privately owned media.

Correa has used the courts to sue for libel newspapers and journalists who have written critically about him.

The courts are currently considering a constitutional challenge brought against a controversial new communications law that would reduce the private sector's share of radio and television frequencies.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]