Keep it legal: Social media, the UAE and U consults legal expert on the dangers of ‘guess what I heard…’

Tags: Clyde & Co.Social MediaUnited Arab Emirates
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Keep it legal: Social media, the UAE and U Causing harm can be enough, so think before you post. (Getty Images)
By  Stephen McBride Published  May 22, 2014

The Middle East has often found itself ill at ease with social media. Following the Arab Spring, where platforms such as Twitter were credited with the ouster of a number of long-standing regional leaders, countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman have imprisoned citizens for inflammatory tweets and sought the means of monitoring mass-communication platforms.

In the UAE, two recent incidents have thrust social media and its use into the spotlight. The first was an article in the Interior Ministry’s newsletter “999”, which warned of the increase in the spreading of “rumours” or “misleading information” via social platforms.

The second was the release of a whitepaper by the UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) on the use of Facebook.

Both government messages reminded the Gulf nation’s diverse population that “rumour-spreading” on social media was a crime and carried stiff penalties, but neither gave clear guidelines on what constituted a “rumour”.

Lt Colonel Awadh Saleh Al Kindi, editor-in-chief of 999, said: “There have been cases in the past where residents caught using social media to spread malicious rumours faced a jail term or fine, or both. The UAE authorities will seriously deal with false news spread via social media harming UAE society.”

What is clear is that legal principles governing social media rumours are no different from those covering defamation.

In September 2013, Rebecca Kelly, partner at legal firm Clyde & Co, authored a document titled, “Defamation and social media in the UAE”. In the document, which Clyde & Co shared with, Kelly wrote: “Defamation in the UAE is a criminal offence. [It] includes both oral and published statements, and will include any statement posted to a website which causes harm to the person the statement is about.”

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