Apart from strengthening your privacy controls on social media, look to finding your own community online. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Sachi Vyas (name changed on request), a Dubai-based media professional, recalls how her one-line review of a film on a social media site, erupted into a barrage of angry comments from an actor’s fan club. After being hounded for days by “keyboard warriors”, she deactivated her account for several days, and returned online with a different name.

Bullying, along with cyberstalking, harassment are just a few things that most women across the world, face, on social media.

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According to a 2024 study by the US-based Pew Research Centre, an American think tank, the majority of victims of online harassment said that their most recent experience took place on social media. While men are also subject to online harassment – which includes name calling, derision, and physical threats – the study found that online, women are more than twice as likely as men to experience harassment that has an entire range of cyberstalking, abuse, doxing, photo manipulation, body shaming, and catfishing.

In addition, the total percentage of women who reported having experienced harassment has doubled since early 2017, from 8 per cent to 16 per cent in 2024, says the Pew Research Centre. The numbers have just increased and while 61 per cent of women believe online harassment to be a major problem, not many know how to prevent it.

Yet, many women don’t want to give up social media, despite the fear and looming threats of harassment. “I still want to use it, because it’s also a boon for connectivity, making friends, and for work-related concerns,” explains Emma Loretta, a British communications coach, based in Dubai.

While social media can be a hostile environment owing to its global reach, there are ways to protect and safeguard your rights and privacy.

Here’s the protection that the UAE law offers.

How to hit back against cyberbullying

As Mahmood Shakir Al Mashhadani, Senior Associate at Galadari Advocates and Legal consultants had told Gulf News in a previous report that cyberbullying can refer to actions where people can view, share, or comment on content that cause mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression or even leading to suicide. Explaining the tough stance the UAE takes against any form of online harassment and bullying, he said, the Cyber Law Federal Decree No 34 of 2021 forms the basis upon which cyberbullying and online harassment are defined and dealt with in the country. Specifically, spreading rumours is recognised as a major form of cyberbullying, falling under Article 52 of the Law.

The words 'cyberbullying' and 'harassment' under the new law can take various forms . All such forms of cyberbullying and harassment find mention in the new law...

- Rajiv Suri, Senior Associate – Intellectual Property and Corporate at Al Suwaidi and company, Advocates and Legal Consultants

We spoke to Rajiv Suri, Senior Associate – Intellectual Property and Corporate at Al Suwaidi and company, Advocates and Legal Consultants, who explained the numerous forms of cyberbullying and harassment and the punishments for each violation:

• Spreading rumours (Article 52): Up to two years in jail and a fine of at least Dh100,000

• Online threats (Article 42): Up to two years in jail and a fine of Dh250,000 to Dh500,000. In more serious circumstances, the jail term can be increased to 10 years.

• Defamation (posting lies to hurt someone's reputation) (Article 43): Possibility of a jail sentence and a fine of anywhere between Dh250,000 to Dh500,000.

• Invasion of privacy (sharing someone's private information without permission) (Article 44): Up to six months jail time and a fine of anywhere between Dh150,000 to Dh500,000.

• Breach of personal data and information (Article 6): Jail term of not less than six months and/or fine of at least Dh20,000 and up to Dh100,000.

• Incitement to lewdness or seducing anyone for or assisting in the commission of prostitution (Article 33): Provisional imprisonment and fine of at least Dh250,000 and up to Dh1 million. In case the victim is a child, the punishment is at least five years imprisonment and payment of a fine of up to Dh1 million.

• Unauthorised circulation of personal pictures of individuals without their consent or circulating, displaying pornographic material, or anything which is harmful to public morals (Article 34): Jail term and/or fine of at least Dh250,000 and up to Dh500,000. If the subject is a child then this detention would be for at least one year and fine up to Dh500,000. The punishments are stricter if the content involves children or is designed to seduce children. The punishments for using children in pornography could entail imprisonment and fines of up to Dh1,000,000 under Article 35.

Here is also what you can do to take back control on social media, as psychologists and wellness experts explain.

Take control of your online presence

Curate your feed. Unfollow accounts that post negativity, promote unrealistic beauty standards, or trigger anxiety for you Image Credit: Shutterstock

First, you need to take some practical steps, as Karin Baker, a Dubai-based clinical psychologist says. The digital space is almost endless and infinite: You need to protect yourself. So, review, adjust your privacy settings on social media platforms. See who can interact with you, limit who can see your posts and evaluate the personal information that you share online. “Curate your feed. Unfollow accounts that post negativity, promote unrealistic beauty standards, or trigger anxiety for you,” Baker, explains.

To improve your online security, create strong passwords and change them regularly. Enable login verification to receive alerts about suspicious login attempts. Additionally, limit location sharing on posts and stories to minimise the risk of stalking, she says. She provides other suggestions, such as don’t automatically let your phone photos get synced to Google, in case of Android phones and iCloud, in case of Iphones.

Create multiple profiles

For women, whose career depends on their public profile, it’s best to keep multiple profiles, says Melissa James, an American Dubai-based creative strategist. “Ensure that only your trusted circle is on your private account. Make sure your posts are protected, so they can’t be re-shared,” she says.

Create empowering spaces of your own

Ipshita Sharma
Ipshita Sharma, a Dubai-based freelancing professional, started her own community for women on Facebook as she wanted to create a safe space. Image Credit: Supplied

Women supporting women.

Dubai-based Ipshita Sharma, a freelancing media professional started her own community for women on Facebook, as she wanted to provide a safe space for women, to feel free and share their own problems without fear. The group has around 600 members, and they regularly plan events. "I love the group and how supportive it is. I have shared my struggles with mental illness, as have many others. The more I get to know these women, I am amazed by their resilience, their kindness, their business acumen and their sense of fun," she says. 

As Baker recommends, go out there and connect with like-minded women, who can help you create the comforting space you need.

“We need to root out the fear and anxiety that social media brings with it. Many things are not in our control, but we can change certain things, like who we associate with. That fosters a sense of community and makes us feel supported,” she adds. It also gives people a chance to have more dialogue on the safety regarding social media, prompting them to raise awareness. That can pressure platforms to strengthen their safety measures too. For all you know, it could lead to better reporting mechanisms, faster responses to complaints and penalties for abusers.

‘Don’t fight hate with hate’

annoyed woman
Don't engage with online haters. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Alexandra Carvalho, a Dubai-based creative strategist and founder of Alex’s House of Social says it’s all about tuning your mindset: Will most of these trolls ever walk up to you and say what they do online? They’re just people, hiding behind a keyboard.

However, what she does remind is to not share personal information or images of themselves or go meet someone you never met before in a private place. Remember you can always be in control of a lot of things you share and consume online.

She also advises against engagement with many willing haters; it just gets exhausting and draining. “I have my TikTok notifications turned off and I’ve had quite a few viral videos on my TikTok attract so much hate and bullying, and plenty of ignorant absurd comments. I personally don’t get affected by these comments,” she says. As she asserts, she tried to find a sense of compassion, if she chooses to reply to them and this helps to reduce the fear of the online space. “You can combat hate with kindness. But that is if you are in a mental place to give that. If not don’t. I urge you to delete, report, block, and even filter keywords so these platforms filter these comments,” she adds.