Social networking websites have become source of rumours and false information and efforts must be made to combat the misuse of these sites, according to participants in a seminar on “Social media networks and how it is affecting UAE society” organised by the Dubai Judicial Institute.
They stressed that the UAE could criminalise misuse of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook and libel laws could be invoked against offenders.
Dr Jamal Sumaiti, director of the Dubai Judicial Institute, said social networking sites are public places which can give wide publicity to any opinion.
Dr Sumaiti called on the legislature to revise the law to make it possible for third parties to take legal action in cases of libel through such websites. Currently, only victims of libel can pursue legal action in such cases.
He said social networking sites are being used to defame and insult senior officials.
He said some people are taking undue advantage of the absence of UAE laws regulating electronic publishing but it is possible to use the general principles of law against such offenders.
Dr Sumaiti said the Kuwait Court of Cassation had ruled that Twitter is a public place but subject to the Kuwaiti Penal Code which is very close to UAE law. He called on the UAE legislature to develop laws against excesses in the use of social networking sites.
He said the problem starts when an article published online is morally offensive because it is pornographic or defames or insults someone or incites the reader to commit a crime.
Dr Sumaiti also warned of Internet pranks about public security. For example, a Twitter user in England , upset because his flight had been cancelled after the airport was closed due to bad weather, wrote “crushed, Robin Hood Airport is closed, to you a week or else we’ll blow airport” . He was arrested, his computer and mobile phone confiscated, charged with threatening public security and fined.
Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, commander-in-chief of Dubai Police, said social networking was invented to create social ties but unfortunately it has been politicised and is now being used to abuse symbols of the state.
He said: “We will not allow them to tamper with our security. We have been silent for many years but will no longer stay quiet. We will not allow them to portray our police, judiciary, government and national assembly as corrupt.”
He said though the state has established moderate centres of religious learning for young people, some of them are being remote controlled and brainwashed.
Lt General Khalfan said if any citizen is abused on Twitter, he should go to the nearest police station and register his complaint. If the police refuse to record his complaint, he has to turn to the public prosecutor who can order the police to take note of the complaint. “We must be vigilant about the country’s security,” he added. He hoped the federal attorney-general would sue those who harmed the reputation of the state.
Sami Al Riyami, editor of Emarat Al Youm, said social networking sites have become a fertile environment for spread of negative rumours and gossip.
Al Riyami spoke about the need to educate the community about the danger of using modern means of communications in the wrong way. What some groups are spreading is alien to the traditions of the UAE, he added.
He said though these sites were set up to help Internet users to communicate, they had branched out into political activities and are using the sites to plan seminars and demonstrations.
He explained that the younger generation had created their virtual worlds, often hiding under assumed names, and are often fed with ideas that question their convictions.
Al Riyami said Arab users of these social networking sites increased 52 per cent last year to reach 58 million people. A million people are joining every month and UAE ranks first in the use of Facebook.
He said it cannot be denied that these sites have some positive points but people must be taught how to use them in public interest in an atmosphere of responsible freedom. “No country is immune from the effects of the Arab Spring, but there is no dispute about the legitimacy of the UAE government which is close to the people,” he said. He expected the negative use of Twitter to subside in about three to five years.