Dubai: Thinking of responding to a friend or colleague with a sarcastic meme on a group chat? Or about to get into a heated argument on a social media site with complete strangers? If so, you might want to think twice. Any comments made online, which include swear words or comments that may be deemed offensive will not just land you with a fine of up to Dh500,000, you may also land in jail.
On July 20, the UAE Public Prosecution took to its official social media channels and posted a video on Article 43 of the UAE’s cybercrimes law, which penalises the acts of swearing and slander on online forums.
If one of the acts stated in the first paragraph of this Article is committed against a public employee, or a person assigned to perform a public service, or on the occasion of his performance of this job, this shall constitute a circumstance calling for the application of a heavier punishment for the crime.
Gulf News spoke with legal experts in the UAE to find out what social media users should keep in mind when engaging with other users online, keeping in mind the need to follow the UAE’s regulations on online use.
Samira Ismail Mohamed Ahmed Al Zarooni, senior lawyer at Samira Al Zarooni Advocates and Legal Consultants, commented on how Article 43 ensures that people avoid actions that may be offensive to others’ rights and freedoms.
“Individuals must … avoid all words and phrases of insult and slander, as an expression of respect towards themselves and the society … which is why this rule was issued,” she said.
She went on to advise users on how the Article can have a broad scope of application in terms of the language that can be considered illegal, as well as the situations in which the language is used.
“Swearing includes insults, abuse and verbal abuse to which a person may be subjected to, directly or indirectly, by information networks or an IT or information system. ‘Networks’ mean links between two or more information programmes or IT systems like computers, mobile phones, emails or social networking platforms,” she said.
Swearing includes insults, abuse and verbal abuse to which a person may be subjected to, directly or indirectly, by information networks or an IT or information system. ‘Networks’ mean links between two or more information programmes or IT systems like computers, mobile phones, emails or social networking platforms
Ludmila Yamalova, who is the founder and managing Partner of HPL Yamalova & Plewka DMCC, advised people to be extremely vigilant in the language they use, whether in a private message or an online comment.
“Any digital communication should be strictly scrutinised and guided by the principle of erring on the side of caution. This is for several reasons. Firstly, the UAE Cybercrime Law and, in particular, Article 43, does not define what is considered ‘insulting’ to others. Rather, the language is very broad and subjective, which means that anything that may be deemed insulting to the recipient of the message could be considered illegal,” she said.
“Furthermore, the nature of digital communications makes them not only permanent and non-erasable, but also easily and rapidly transmissible to a broader audience. Therefore, the damage … could be greater and more immediate.”
Exercise caution even during private conversations
Yamalova added that private chats were also not necessarily excluded from the cybercrimes law.
“The new UAE cybercrime law, and in particular Article 43, applies to all types of digital communications. This includes private online conversations. As such, there is no requirement in the law for the communications to be shared with others. It is sufficient for the message to be ‘insulting’ in nature to the recipient and for it to be transmitted through digital means,” she said
The new UAE cybercrime law, and in particular Article 43, applies to all types of digital communications. This includes private online conversations. As such, there is no requirement in the law for the communications to be shared with others. It is sufficient for the message to be ‘insulting’ in nature to the recipient and for it to be transmitted through digital means.
Best practices to follow when communicating online
In order to ensure that you do not violate any Articles of the UAE’s cybercrimes law, legal experts advised people to refrain from swearing on the internet and maintain a civil discourse.
According to Yamalova, the informal nature of social media platforms might also be a reason people might assume there will no repercussions for comments that are inappropriate.
“People tend to feel and act a lot more casually and informally when they communicate through social media or other types of digital communications. Often, they tend to be more colloquial and also more emotional, without applying much of a filter,” Yamalova said.
She also brought up the difference in individual and cultural perspectives, which might make a joke seem offensive to the recipient. To avoid such issues, Yamalova advised social media users to be cognisant of the language they use and think twice before posting a comment or sending a message.
She said: “My general advice is to be cautious and measured in what language and tone you use in online communications. Analyse your comments … could it be viewed by someone differently? And generally speaking, just do not use defamatory or vulgar language or curse words in any type of written communication.”