There has been an increase in the number of people spreading misleading information or rumours in the UAE thanks to digital social media platforms and high-tech gadgets like smartphones to pass on false data, according to the Ministry of Interior’s 999 magazine.
The magazine notes that while the UAE government respects every individual’s right to freedom of speech, people found disseminating misleading information that create public panic, thereby disrupting normal daily activities, will be prosecuted in accordance with the laws of the land.
Spreading rumours against an individual/entity or about a public concern poses real safety threat and is strongly discouraged by UAE authorities, it adds.
People spreading false information on the internet should be aware that such acts are considered criminal offenses under the UAE laws, especially if they cause public panic, the magazine reported in its May edition.
Under Federal Legal Decree No. 5 for 2012 on combating cybercrimes, spreading rumours “damaging social peace and public order” and causing damage to “national peace” empowers the UAE government to prosecute concerned individuals.
Article 29 of the law states those proven guilty face imprisonment and a civil fine not exceeding Dh1 million.
The report highlights how much damage irresponsible dissemination of misleading information can do.
The UAE has the highest rates of smartphone penetration and internet connectivity in the world.
According to doctors, social media experts and psychologists in a report in the 999 Magazine, the seemingly harmless action of a tweet, a re-tweet or a post to spread gossip and rumours can negatively affect society as a whole with children and youth often among those that are worst affected.
The re-emergence of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus or Mers is the latest ‘trend’ driving social media rumour in the UAE today, the magazine noted. Despite reassuring statements from the UAE Ministry of Health (MoH) and Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad), some have responded exactly as the rumour-mongers had expected.
The 999 report says the rapid spread of information or misinformation in social media is due to the fact that information is shared by someone you know, like or intentionally follow. And because the internet penetration is much higher now than in recent years, identifying facts from rumours became more difficult.
Lt Colonel Awadh Saleh Al Kindi, Editor-in-Chief of 999, said: “There have been cases in the past where residents caught using social media to spread malicious rumours faced jail term or fine, or both. The UAE authorities will seriously deal with false news spread via social media harming UAE society.
“While in the past spreading of information happens through word of mouth, the massive power and influence of social media has changed the communication landscape and a misuse of social media can virtually spread mass fear in a click of a button.
“We encourage UAE residents to educate themselves first and verify any information that they receive. To safeguard the country’s safety and security, the UAE has put in place strict laws, which include criminal charges and/or fines for damaging social peace and public order. These laws are deterrent in spreading rumours or false information on social media and the internet.”