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Wake-up call for Facebook, Whatsapp groups

Administrators of popular social media groups in the UAE tread cautiously following instances of people landing in hot water because of offensive posts

Image Credit: Illustration by Ador T. Bustamante
XPRESS

Abu Dhabi: The recent termination of Atul Kochar’s contract to run a popular restaurant at a Dubai five-star hotel following a racist tweet by the celebrity chef has made social media and WhatsApp groups in the UAE sit up.

Working overtime to monitor posts that may be hostile, inappropriate, inflammatory or even defamatory, admins of various social media groups told XPRESS their task is by no means easy.

Unsparing law

According to UAE’s Cyber Crime Law Article 20, slander, use of abusive language or hurling of insults against another person or entity through a computer network is a punishable crime that could lead to imprisonment and fines up to Dh500,000.

Illustration by Ador T. Bustamante

Group admins can also be held liable for inappropriate posts.

In May, the Sharjah public prosecution registered a case against the admin of a WhatsApp group and its members for allegedly uploading and circulating pornographic videos and photos.

With members of social media groups coming from different parts of the world, there could be legal implications in other jurisdictions too.

In India for example, social media administrators are held directly responsible if no action is taken against posts deemed to spread fake news and rumours or incite communal disharmony.

Angry call

Freya Jaffar, admin of Facebook group Abu Dhabi Q&A, said she was once woken up at 3am by a phone call from an angry member who wanted another member to be removed from the group.

 We are forced to block members when they become abusive”

 - FREYA JAFFAR, ABU DHABI Q&A

 

She said, “The two members had an online exchange over a cultural issue which turned ugly. The caller threatened to take me to court if I didn’t take action.”

The bigger the group, the more challenging is the admin’s task.

Jaffar said of the 50,000 members on the group, nearly 9,000 people are in the blocked list. “We are forced to block members when they become abusive, share illegal stuff or harass others. All of this goes against the spirit of community which the forum aims to foster,” she said.

Tough measures

Gina Dillon, who runs FreeCycle Abu Dhabi (FCAD) that has 51,000 members, said, “We become tougher as the group grows. What people don’t understand is that we are protecting them by removing their offensive posts.”

 A member once sent me a picture of a murdered woman”

 - GINA DILLON, FREECYCLE ABU DHABI (FCAD)

 

She recalled how an offended member once sent her a graphic picture of a murdered woman.

“It freaked me out. I had to screen the members on board and block some of them,” she said.

Jonia Mathew of Style Diva, which has 11,000 members, said she monitors every post and comment to make sure they are in line with the rules of the country.

Extra vigil

“Hardly one per cent of them are hostile, but you have to be careful. When we run competitions for instance, some people get upset and demand explanations or try to bad-mouth the winner,” she said.

 I monitor every post to make sure they are in line with the rules”

 -JONIA MATTHEW, STYLE DIVA

 

Jaffer said humour is also commonly misunderstood.

“What is funny for some is extremely offensive for others. Despite constant reminders, people flout the rules and get angry when we block them. They start targeting us and troll our personal accounts,” she said.

According to Mathew, people are under the mistaken belief that the virtual aspect of social media gives them immunity to behave and act as they please. “But what they don’t realise is that they can get themselves and others on the group into trouble.”.

 

3 people fired in UAE for social media posts

Atul Kochhar

Dubai’s J.W. Marriott Marquis hotel severed its contract with Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar last month after he tweeted that followers of Islam had “terrorised” Hindus for 2,000 years. The London-based chef, who was associated with the Rang Mahal restaurant, faced the ire of social media users after he responded to a tweet by Indian actress Priyanka Chopra, who had apologised for an “offensive” episode of her TV show Quantico that portrayed a Hindu group as “terrorists”.

In his response, Kochhar had said, “It’s sad to see that you have not respected the sentiments of Hindus who have been terrorised by Islam over 2000 years. Shame on you.”

Krishnakumar Nair

Krishnakumar Nair, a rigging supervisor in Dubai was fired last month after he uploaded a video on Facebook in which he threatened to kill Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and rape his family.

Nair, who hails from Kerala, India, had been working with the company in the GCC for four years but had relocated to the UAE just last year.

“The action was taken in keeping with our company policy which has zero-tolerance for such behaviour,” said a senior HR operations specialist at the firm where Nair was employed.

Bincy Lal Balachandran

Sharjah-based customer service executive Bincy Lal Balachandran was fired by his employer Alpha Paints last year for sending a sexually abusive personal message to investigative journalist Rana Ayyub via Facebook messenger.

The matter came to light after Ayyub posted a screenshot of the message saying: “Just a sample of the filth I receive on my Facebook page. Time to name and shame this pervert.”

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