Better Safe Than Sorry

We talk to Fiona Robertson, Senior Associate — Technology, Media & Telecommunications at Al Tamimi & Company about the laws youngsters and their parents need to be aware of when using social media.

While technology has permeated every aspect of our lives, from our workplaces to our homes, and even our classrooms, there is still an ugly side of the internet that causes concern for parents who need to ensure their children understand the ramifications of using it inappropriately. Fiona Robertson, Senior Associate — Technology, Media & Telecommunications at Al Tamimi & Company says the first area to consider is the content regulations of the UAE, because they apply across the board to everyone when they are active on social media and in the media.

These regulations include showing respect for the country, the Arab states, and the leaders, but they also cover the areas of religious vilification and anti-discrimination. Other important areas of law users must be wary of posting about include religion, politics, and social order. Users must be particularly cautious about posting images which could be construed as pornography, which applies to anything that looks sexual in content.

“People forget that when they’re on social media, they’re not sitting at a dinner party with their friends; they are publishing something that other people can read. Even if they have a closed Facebook group, for example, the forward button can be used, screen grabs can be taken and anything that they create can be circulated much more widely than they understand, and quicker than they realise,” says Fiona.

She adds that expats and travellers need to take account of, and abide by, the laws of the country that they are in. They are subject to the laws of that country and in no country is ignorance of the law an excuse.

Users must be careful about what they say about other people, and it doesn’t even have to be overly critical or nasty; it only has to make the person being spoken about be viewed in a negative light. Defamation is criminal and, in the UAE, it is also covered under the Cyber Crimes Law, which addresses major issues like hacking and extends into areas like breach of privacy, and use of materials that is against the morals of the country.

“Violation of each section of the Cyber Crimes Law comes with a fine and jail time. But with regards to defamation, the government can and will deport you. That is something that I think a lot of people don’t take seriously, but they should because it has been done,” says Fiona.

It’s not only defamation teenagers have to worry about, sometimes a moment of anger online could cause them to say something they will regret. Although they may feel that their online communities are the best place to engage, if they lash out it is still published on the internet.

“We’re coming into the area of cyberbullying now which is problematic, not just from a legal perspective but also from a parenting perspective. It is difficult because kids are very emotional, and they do tend to strike out, and very often their parents get involved,” says Fiona.

She adds that the UAE government takes a dim view to cyberbullying, and the Dubai Police has its own designated Cyber Crimes unit and phone number to receive reports. Cyberbullying is not limited to attacking individuals online. She says there are far too many cases of teenage girls being bullied into sending inappropriate photos of themselves to boys.

“First, blackmailing somebody is against the law and against the Cyber Crimes Law and it comes with strict penalties. Secondly, and more importantly, those images are generally going to be considered pornographic. Having pornographic images of someone who is underage, in and of themselves, is a crime,” Fiona warns.

She adds that if someone is asked or threatened to send inappropriate images, they need to see somebody about it and let them know what’s happening. She emphasises that the recipient doesn’t even have to share them, in fact they don’t even have to look at them, just having them is enough to be penalised. Fiona advises, in the event somebody does send unsolicited images, the recipient deletes them immediately and tells the sender they do not want these images. Parents can help support their children in navigating these issues by being as honest as they can be as early as possible, because children are being exposed to the dangers of social media at ages as young as 13.

Fiona says that when understanding the boundaries that come with posting online and how social media should and should not be used, it can be a wonderful tool for connecting, communicating and providing a support group for teenagers.

“I think it’s important to use social media in a respectful way in any event. Regardless of the country you’re in, there are going to be laws with which you must comply; each country has their priorities on what they consider to be bad and what they don’t, and every country is entitled to do that. Any laws that make social media a nicer place to be are to be actively encouraged and it’s good that the government is addressing that,” she says.

You can report cybercrimes to the Dubai Police Cyber Crimes unit by calling 901 or online at