Due care needs to be taken  when posting or sharing information on social media because rumor-mongering is a criminal offence in the UAE.
Under Federal Legal Decree No 5 for 2012 on combating cyber crimes, spreading rumors “damaging social peace and public order” and causing damage to “national peace” empowers the UAE government to prosecute concerned individuals. Article 29 of the Federal Legal Decree No 5 for 2012 states those proven guilty face imprisonment and a civil fine not exceeding ($272 thousand) Dh1 million.
Other countries in the West have similar laws governing the dissemination of data that could cause harm to national security.
Spreading rumors used to be considered fairly harmless, but with the emergence of ‘twitteratis’ and compulsive Facebook users, it has now acquired a fairly dangerous hue.
With 240 million Twitter users worldwide, 500 million tweets being sent around the world each day and 1.23 billion Facebook users globally, viral content is unpredictable.
Users might not even be aware that they are party to a concerted misinformation campaign when they forward a chain mail without so much as putting a thought to it. It might be of a salacious nature, fibbing about an individual or it may be disguised as news of social importance that might actually destabilize the community — related to mystery illnesses, epidemics etc or cause people to press the panic button (in case of news related to stock market movements etc).
What you need to remember always is that anything that you have not personally verified to be true can be construed as rumor-mongering and it is your responsibility to nip that trend in the bud by refusing to be party to it.
Rumors related to 9/11 conspiracy theories, misinformation about the spread of certain infectious diseases and recently those related to the ill-fated MH370 have only served to damage information gathering on these issues and spread panic in the community.
Authorities in the UAE have been running a sustained campaign to create awareness about such pitfalls of social media. Lt Colonel Awad Saleh Al Kindi, Editor-in-Chief of 999, the official Ministry of Interior Magazine explained: “There have been cases in the past where residents caught using social media to spread malicious rumors faced jail term or fine, or both. The UAE authorities will seriously deal with false news spread via social media harming UAE society.
“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 rumors or false information on social media and the internet.”
Mary John, clinical psychologist at the Dubai Community Health Centre, explained how gossip is different from a rumor.
“Gossip is what takes place in an inner circle of a group that has shared interests. A rumor takes place in the realm of public communication and is infused with a private or personal agenda engineered to cause social panic. These could be rumors related to an illness, spreading malice about a community, misinforming the public about a national personality among others. To share anything is important and a human trait, but to spread a baseless news to needle the anxiety of people only serves to breed fear and create mischief,” she said.
Look around and you will find the typical rumor monger right beside you, John says. These are people who have particular personality types given to histrionics or narccissim wherein they have a compulsion to make a dramatic statement to attract attention to themselves, she adds.
“People spread rumors when they want to feel superior, want attention in a particular group, want to gain control of the group, are envious of a person, or country and want to take revenge or are purely bored and cannot accept peace.”
Speaking to Gulf News, Fadi Alool, Professor in the Department of Computer Engineering at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), pointed out that it is the responsibility of an individual to first verify what he reads or hears.
“It’s very easy to click that forward button. But it’s also very easy to verify the information, which takes under a few second,” he said.
Professor Alool referred to the website truthOrfiction.com as one of many websites that allow users to confirm news or trending posts within seconds before choosing to resend them.
With social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram becoming some of the main sources for trending or breaking news, re-sharing information has become a social responsibility, said Professor Alool.
Reposting rumors, whether social or political, without validating the information is a waste of time, resources and productivity and can cause a great deal of disruption and damage, he explained.
“From a security point of view, a post or a rumor can be traced back to a person but it is a difficult process. Multiple parties such as the police and the telecom company have to be involved to make it possible — so spreading awareness about verifying news is definitely necessary.”
By Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary, Jumana Khamis