The role of social media in solving — and committing — crimes

Many things are forbidden when using social media in Saudi Arabia, including stirring up tensions and causing division among citizens, encouraging criminality, or publishing anything might harm public affairs in the country. (AFP)
Updated 19 December 2018
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The role of social media in solving — and committing — crimes

  • The battle against cybercrime in the Kingdom is likely to escalate as technology becomes more sophisticated, and there are already heavy penalties for crimes such hacking, identity theft, hate speech and pornography
  • The obvious first step is to contact the police and hand over the devices containing the digital evidence. Specialist officers will copy the data, analyze it and evaluate it

JEDDAH: Many Saudi citizens are increasingly using social media as an alternative source of news, rather than local media organizations, which are subject to strict censorship and controls regarding content.
There is no doubt that as the use of social networks has increased, so too has the number of people subjected to abuse, threats, discrimination and defamation online. In some cases people, groups or organizations are deliberately and systematically targeted to achieve a specific goal.
Dealing with such abuse on social media is an organizational matter that often requires some form of censorship. There is a fine line between the right of an individual to create and publish a video on social media in which they can express their personal opinions and, for example, the right to publish recorded footage of a crime taking place.
Many questions were raised, for example, by a recent incident involving the kidnapping of a Saudi teenage girl in Riyadh, footage of which was posted on an Instagram live stream. The video quickly went viral, though it was soon deleted.
The posting of such footage of criminal acts is considered a crime and exploitation in the Kingdom. Many other things are forbidden when using social media in Saudi Arabia, including stirring up tensions and causing division among citizens, encouraging criminality, or publishing anything might harm public affairs in the country.
If any person, group or organization feels that they have been subjected to online abuse they can report it to the authorities who will examine the digital evidence, including any video footage.
Abdulrazzak Murjan, an expert in digital evidence and a member of the American Academy of Forensic Medicine, said that rulings by the Supreme Court set out the procedures for dealing with such allegations, and how digital evidence can be used.
“Videos are one type of digital evidence and can be taken as a pretext, when they are free of editing, to prove the charge in the...courts,” he said.
The laws governing information crimes, which involve use of electronic devices to commit a crime, prohibit “producing material that violates public order, religious values, public morals or the inviolability of private life, preparing it, sending it or storing it through a network or a computer.”
While electronic devices and social media can legitimately be used as sources of digital evidence to prove criminal activity, the misuse of such content by publishing it online is itself considered a cybercrime. It is, therefore important to know what to do should you come into possession of such sensitive material.
The obvious first step is to contact the police and hand over the devices containing the digital evidence. Specialist officers will copy the data, analyze it and evaluate it. If appropriate, the evidence will be submitted to the attorney general for further assessment, and then to the court during a trial.
While the misuse of social media in the ways described above can be a criminal act, cybercrime is a more general description for any crime committed using a computer and network, such as hacking, blackmail and cyberbullying. The victims can range from individuals and organizations all the way up to governments. In Saudi Arabia many measures are being taken and constant work is being done to protect people from such attacks.
“In terms of the nature of crimes committed through social media, they fall under the laws related to cybercrimes,” said Budur Al-Sharif, a lawyer. “They are associated with the criminal law, under which fall the cybercrime laws issued by the Communications and Information Technology Commission.
“Saudi criminal law includes many regulations related to addressing cybercrimes in terms of the type of crime, its meticulous peculiarity, its methods and the extent of the punishment imposed according to that law. The punishment for the perpetrators of these crimes can be as high as 10 years in jail or a fine of SR5 million ($1.3 million).”
Lawyer Dimah Al-Sharif called for action to make social media safer for everyone, and to raise awareness of other people’s rights and the consequences of misuse.
“I believe that establishing official and verified accounts controlled by the Ministry of Interior would help to make reports more credible and trustworthy, and reduce false reports. Moreover, awareness is needed among teenagers and minors to make it easier for them to differentiate between their freedoms and other people’s privacy.”
The battle against cybercrime in the Kingdom is likely to escalate as technology becomes more sophisticated, and there are already heavy penalties for crimes such hacking, identity theft, hate speech and pornography.
“We are facing increased hate speech and discrimination and measures have been taken to curb it,” said Muna Abu Sulaiman, a social media personality and expert. “However, enforcement lags behind and involves too many different ministries and authorities. My suggestion is that we develop a law enforcement unit that deals only with cybercrimes relating to hate speech.
“When crimes go beyond social media into the real world, and social media is used only to document them, law enforcement is fast to respond. We have seen several cases where within hours crimes were solved and criminals apprehended.”


Egypt reported to have 4-6m fake news pages

An Egyptian carries a load of newspapers in Cairo, Egypt, in this file photo taken on Dec. 1, 2014. (AP)
Updated 6 min 31 sec ago
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Egypt reported to have 4-6m fake news pages

  • ‘The fake accounts ... are usually not owned by Egyptians, but by foreigners’

CAIRO: Egypt is reported to have 4 to 6 million fake news pages on social media accounts, according to Ali Hosni, undersecretary at of the General Directorate of Information and Relations at the Egyptian Interior Ministry.
The fake accounts, made to spread false information, are usually not owned by Egyptians, but by foreigners, he added.
Egypt has faced a flood of false rumors on an almost weekly basis, with claims such as that a newly appointed minister was in fact dead, or that of a girl kidnapped in the Beheira, who turned out to have runaway to avoid taking her exams.
According to a recent global survey, 86 percent of internet users have admitted that they have fallen for fake news online. The survey also showed that Egyptians were the most gullible in terms of fake news.

Prohibitory step
The government passed a law prohibiting fake news in an attempt to control the problem. The law, passed in July 2018, states that social media accounts with over 5,000 followers will be treated as media outlets, and their owners could be subjected to fines or prison for spreading fake news.
Responses to the law were skeptical, as people wondered what defined fake news, while others found the law to be vague. With the global survey’s results, it can be presumed that the 2018 fake news law did not have too much of an impact.
There have been multiple reports of social media accounts masquerading as officials and in Egypt turning out to be fake. One, the page for Education Minister Mahmoud Abo Nasr, had 80,000 Facebook followers on it — his genuine official page had only 55,000 followers.