Dubai: A lawyer in the UAE was recently summoned by the Public Prosecution Office in Abu Dhabi, after she posted a video clip on a social media platform with a fabricated case, “to increase her followers on social media”.
In an official statement, issued on July 31, the office said that the accused lawyer posted a video clip on a social media platform, promoting a fake legal case – the lawyer alleged that a ruling has been issued in a case heard by the courts, convicting a father sued by his son for insulting him.
“When questioned by the Public Prosecution, the accused lawyer stated that the case was fictional and had no existence in reality,” the statement read.
When the public prosecution office released the statement on this case, it also urged online users to always stay away from sharing unverified information online and raised awareness about the UAE’s cybercrimes law – Federal Decree-Law No. 34 of 2021 on combating rumours and cybercrimes.
But, how aware are you with the type of online behaviour that violates this law and can land you in legal trouble? Gulf News spoke with legal experts in the UAE, who explained how the law enhances security and respect on online platforms, and what the most common mistakes are that users may not know about.
What is the social media law?
Federal Decree Law No. 34 of 2021 on Combatting Rumours and Cybercrimes, came into effect on January 2, 2022, amending Federal Decree-Law No. 5 of 2012 on Combating Cybercrimes, which was the primary legislation that used to address social media-related offences in the UAE.
“The updated social media laws under Federal Decree Law No. 34 of 2021 reflect the UAE’s commitment to creating a safe, respectful and responsible online environment. Social media users, both individuals and businesses, must be vigilant about their online activities to avoid legal repercussions. It is imperative to understand and adhere to the amended laws, ensuring that your presence on social media aligns with the UAE’s legal requirements,” Dr Ibrahim Al Banna, CEO of Ibrahim Al Banna Advocates and Legal Consultants, said.
He also spoke about the different ways in which the new law enhances the earlier legislation:
1. Stricter penalties for online defamation and libel
“Individuals found guilty of publishing false information with the intent to damage the reputation of others on social media platforms can now face stronger legal consequences, including heavier fines and extended periods of imprisonment. It is of utmost importance to exercise caution and verify the accuracy of information before sharing it online,” Dr Al Banna said.
The updated social media laws under Federal Decree Law No. 34 of 2021 reflect the UAE’s commitment to creating a safe, respectful and responsible online environment. Social media users, both individuals and businesses, must be vigilant about their online activities to avoid legal repercussions.
– Dr Ibrahim Al Banna, CEO of Ibrahim Al Banna Advocates and Legal Consultants
2. Expanded scope of cybercrime and online harassment
“The amended law broadens the scope of cybercrime and online harassment offences. Cyberbullying and engaging in any form of threatening or harmful behaviour through social media channels are now subject to increased scrutiny. The penalties for such offences have been strengthened, emphasising the UAE’s commitment to creating a safer online environment for all users,” he said.
3. Heightened focus on privacy and data protection
According to Dr Al Banna, the new law places an even greater emphasis on the protection of personal data and privacy in the digital sphere.
“Unauthorised access to, interception, or dissemination of electronic communications or private data, including information shared on social media, is now subject to stricter penalties. Social media users must be cautious about sharing sensitive information and ensure they are familiar with the privacy settings of their accounts,” he said.
4. Enhanced monitoring of religious and cultural sensitivities
“The amended law reinforces the UAE’s commitment to preserving its religious and cultural values. Posting content that may be considered offensive to Islam, any other religion, or content that disrespects the UAE’s cultural norms can lead to significant legal repercussions. It is essential for social media users to demonstrate cultural sensitivity and exercise caution when sharing content related to religion, culture, or politics,” he said.
5. Increased accountability for social media advertising and influencer marketing
“The law also addresses advertising and influencer marketing on social media platforms. Businesses and influencers must ensure full compliance with advertising regulations. All sponsored content must be clearly and prominently labelled to avoid misleading followers. Non-compliance with these regulations may result in penalties and reputational damage,” Dr Al Banna said.
5 common violations that you should stay away from
Speaking to Gulf News about how social media users need to be more aware of the law related to social media activity, Hasan Kashwani, Managing Partner at Dubai-based Kashwani Law Firm, said: “The cybercrimes law covers a wide spectrum – starting from very serious crimes to smaller crimes, like insulting people.”
Zeiad Yehia, Senior Legal Counsel at Kashwani Law Firm also explained that the law covers two types of crimes – those that are only committed in an online environment, like hacking, and others that can take an online and offline form – like swindling, fraud or defamation.
“If I post a rumour online that a company is building a new project, to push up the shares of the company, this can lead to a cybercrime as well as a financial crime. In such a case, the cybercrime law would apply, as well as any other financial law, like the anti-money laundering law,” Yehia said.
However, Kashwani reiterated that the laws are in place to simply ensure that users do not abuse the platforms and use the anonymity it provides to hurt others.
“Unfortunately, people take online platforms as a licence to indulge in unacceptable behaviour – to be racist, or say bad words or insult people. The laws make sure this does not happen,” Kashwani said.
Here are five crimes that you should be aware of, when it comes to social media conduct:
Unfortunately, people take online platforms as a licence to indulge in unacceptable behaviour – to be racist, or say bad words or insult people. The laws make sure this does not happen
– Hasan Kashwani, Managing Partner at Dubai-based Kashwani Law Firm
1. Hate speech, insult or slander
Explaining what can constitute hate speech, Yehia said: “Hate speech is any content that promotes hate or advocates violence against individuals or communities based on race, religion, gender, nationality or any other characteristic that is considered offensive. This includes explicit threats, derogatory slurs or inflammatory remarks. This also includes incitement of violence and defamation, which is a very serious matter in this law. Another crime included in the cybercrimes law is blasphemy – you should ensure that you do not say anything that insults another person’s religion, and there are precedents from the UAE’s Supreme Court convicting people for committing these crimes.
“The federal law addresses challenges posed by rumours and cybercrimes by introducing measures to combat these, and it takes offensive content very seriously.”
Kashwani added that this also includes making derogatory comments against foreign countries.
“Article 28 says that the offender can face six months in jail and between Dh100,000 to Dh500,000 or one of these two penalties, for sharing any information online or saying anything offensive or insulting for any country in the world,” Kashwani said.
The federal law addresses challenges posed by rumours and cybercrimes by introducing measures to combat these, and it takes offensive content very seriously.
– Zeiad Yehia, Senior Legal Counsel at Kashwani Law Firm
2. Violating privacy – don’t take someone’s picture without permission
Kashwani added that another common mistake people made was invading people’s right to privacy, when they are in a public place.
“You could take a video of people, without taking permission from them, and this is considered as a crime. Some people take it for granted that if they are in a restaurant or mall, they can take anyone’s video. Invading other people’s privacy is considered a crime and this would also lead to fines and jail time,” he said
3. Spreading rumours
Another violation that people may not be aware of is sharing information online, without first verifying its source.
“If you receive a news which is untrue and send it to a couple of groups and it will reach a hundred people, so you would be committing a crime by sharing this news,” Kashwani said.
He added that while some rumours might not have malicious intent behind them, other rumours might incite hatred and violence, making the violation an aggravated case.
4. Sharing sensitive work information
“If you are working in a company where you have access to certain information, like a bank or insurance company, and if you make private information public, this will be considered a crime. A person might take a picture of a document which shows a big amount for an insurance policy, for example, or a document which had confidential information and share it on an online platform, this will be considered a crime,” Kashwani said.
5. Advertising medical products, medicines
Referring to Article 49 of the cybercrimes law, Kashwani said: “You can’t advertise medicines or creams without any permit. Sometimes, you see posts promoting a medical cream saying ‘it is very good, try it on’. This is also a criminal offence, which is very common.
“Article 48 also speaks about advertising in general and it says that if you advertise a product or service which is not true, this is also considered a criminal offence.”