Dr Ebtesam Al Ketbi and Major Saeed Al Hajri Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: People have flocked to twitter to try a new technology tool without knowing how to use it responsibly was the message delivered during a workshop on social media usage on Tuesday.

The testimony of how relevant the topic was was evident when His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, attended the workshop titled ‘Social Media Networks: Culture of Use and Limits of Responsibility’ organised by Dubai Press Club.

Shaikh Mohammad praised the idea behind the workshop, and said it helps create awareness about social media’s modern and humanitarian role in extending bridges of communication between people and officials from various sectors.

Shaikh Mohammad was accompanied by Shaikh Maktoum Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

The debate on social media usage was brought to the fore in various contexts including legal and cultural by a panel comprising Abdul Hamid Ahmad, Editor-in-Chief, Gulf News; Major Saeed Al Hajiri, Director of the Criminal Investigation Department’s electronic crime section, Dubai Police; Dherar Humaid Belhoul, Director of External Relations Department, The Media Office, Government of Dubai; Dr Jamal Al Sumaiti, the Director General of Dubai Judicial Institute (DJI); Dr Ebtesam Al Katbi, Professor, Department of Political Science, UAE University; and activists on social media Abdullah Al Habtoor and Wafa Khalfan. It was moderated by Nour Al Din Al Yousuf from Dubai Media Incorporated (DMI).

Major Al Hajiri said twitter is an effective technological tool if used responsibly. He warned that if used otherwise, the police could consider a particular usage as criminal and respond in accordance with the law.

He said, “We do not monitor social media networks. People have the freedom to speak within the legal framework. There is no law specifically for twitter, but there are internet and hi-tech criminal laws, and public policy that protects an individual’s privacy and freedom of speech.”

The debate also touched upon whether there is need for more regulation specific to social media usage. Belhoul believes that there is a dire need for awareness, not more regulation.

“As a twitter user and as an Emirati, I don’t think we need regulation. The problem is we are still learning freedom of speech. People have flocked to twitter to express their opinion, but due to lack of awareness and knowledge, they began to make mistakes,” he said.

Belhoul highlighted the need for fostering dialogue. “We need to learn to respect each other’s opinion. The present-day conversations on twitter would not be tolerated should these have taken place in let’s say 1980. People are evolving and should be given a chance to be heard. They shouldn’t be prevented from expressing their opinion. Instead they should be taught to express and talk without insulting.”

By way of caveat, Dr Al Sumaiti spoke about the dangers of using social networks irresponsibly. He said people who know the legal framework can use twitter as a trap, provoking a person to commit a mistake, thus leading to a court case.

Speaking in favour of an updated law covering social media usage, he said, “A specific act has not been passed in regards to social media, but we apply general laws like those under criminal and copyright laws. The current rules need to be updated to cover electronic aspects. In general, people should avoid insulting and using foul language.”

To add insight to the reasons behind the need for more awareness, Dr Ebtesam, said, “The Gulf culture is such that people are not familiar with public dialogues. They need to learn that a difference in opinion is to be accepted, not insulted. They need to use social media as an information-sharing source.”