Experts say legislation is needed to deal with online insults.
Legal eagles are calling for laws that will specifically address crimes in cyberspace, following a rise in the number of people in the UAE who use social media.
The head of Dubai Judicial Institute, Judge Jamal Al Sumaiti, told 7DAYS that social networking sites such as Twitter are treated by the courts as a public place.
Those found insulting each other through tweets are currently prosecuted according to the laws that would be applied if you insulted someone face to face.
He said: “Currently only the victim or the person who was insulted can make a complaint according to the law. This must be changed because, for example, I can’t go and complain to police when I see people attacking and insulting icons in our country.”
Al Sumaiti added: “Twitter is a public place, where many people can see what is written.
“We are currently using article numbers 372 and 263 in punishment law to deal with social network crimes. Anyone who insults another can be jailed for two years or get a fine of up to Dhs20,000.”
Lawyer Yousef Al Bahar, from Al Bahar Legal Consultant, told 7DAYS that he also feels new legislation is needed as more people now use the internet.
“We need new laws specific to social media because many problems can happen in this world and our law is not specialised in it. We currently just apply the general laws. We need a new modern law for facebook and Twitter cases,” he said.
Al Bahar said web users do not realise they can get themselves in trouble on facebook and Twitter.
He said: “You may write an insult to someone on facebook thinking that you can get away with this, but this is wrong. You can be prosecuted because it is a public place and people can see everything.”
He continued: “We need to raise awareness of this among people, hold workshops and lectures, especially in schools and universities.”
He said social media sites can also cause other problems as there are cases of hackers infiltrating user profiles, stealing pictures and adjusting them to make them into indecent images.
The hackers can then post the new images on the web.
Ashraf Dheeb, a 35-year-old Jordanian in Dubai, said he doesn’t know why people choose to express themselves on social media networks.
“Twitter and facebook are the most common forms of communication for society now. Sometimes we don’t know how to discuss issues so it leads to insults,” he said.
“Many people don’t know they can be punished for this. I think we need more awareness that you can.”
Colonel Saeed Al Hajiri, from Dubai Police, said the force was not monitoring sites and only acted when they received complaints.
“We don’t monitor social media networks directly but if we have a complaint from victims or if we notice a situation that may affect society’s traditions or state security then we investigate,” he said.
Al Hajiri added: “The most common cases we look into regarding social networking are for insults and swearing.”
... but Twitter can be good for the world
While tweeters can get themselves in trouble for posts on social networking sites, a growing number of world leaders are turning to Twitter to communicate with their people and peers. A new ‘twiplomacy’ study has found more world leaders follow UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, on Twitter than any other Middle Eastern leader. Sheikh Mohammed has 13 world leaders among his one million followers.
US President Barack Obama with 18,223,342, is the most followed world power on Twitter. Queen Rania of Jordan is the fourth most followed world leader with 2,222,872 followers on the site. The study, conducted by public relations consultancy Burson-Marsteller examined the Twitter habits of 264 heads of state in 125 countries, including 21 Middle Eastern and North African countries. The study analysed their Twitter profiles, their tweet history and their connections with each other. Dr Elsayed Bekhit, associate professor of journalism at the University of Sharjah, described Sheikh Mohammed as an “online pioneer” who has influenced a lot of young people. He said Twitter was a good way for leaders to stay in touch with the public and respond to their concerns.
WHEN TYPING LEADS TO TROUBLE
Recent examples of the not so tweet side to social networking:
>> A worker for Dubai Municipality, who had escaped punishment for insulting the chief of Dubai Police on Twitter, was jailed for a month after abusing a journalist on facebook earlier this year.
The 43-year-old had insulted Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan bin Tamim twice but each time the police chief waived his rights. The abusive tweeter was eventually locked up for writing on the journalist’s wall: “You developed from sewage to a critic.” His 47-year-old ‘target’ was also jailed for a month for sending insults back to the municipality worker.
>> A tweeter was arrested in March for “threatening state security” over comments he allegedly posted on the social networking site. The Emirati was accused of “directly threatening the UAE Federation’s interests including its internal and external security”, UAE national news agency WAM reported.