The Life and Time of Social Media
We have entered into a time where people frequent on of social and electronic media as much as they breathe in and out. Our reliance on these platforms grows as quickly as the number of platforms available. This rapid growth of electronic media has seen many curveballs, including that of legality and morality. The growth of the electronic era has brought with it new careers, new experiences, and new criminal offenses. And with that, new legislation. The legislation of electronic media differs from country to country – some with extremely stringent laws while others are incredibly lax.
Electronic media optimizes openness, as Mark Zuckerberg stated, "give everyone the power to share anything with anyone." This openness is how social media operates. At our fingertips, we can share any piece of information with any person across the globe. However, as it is said, with power comes great responsibility – and this is where the law plays a vital role in the electronic world. The United Arab Emirates have recently brought to fruition a new law regulating electronic media. This regulation was brought about by the National Media Council.
The regulations released by the Council govern all activities online including publishing, selling of print e-commerce, and e-commerce, video and audio material as well as advertising. These guidelines apply to news websites, electronic publishing outlets, and on-demand printing, including commercial activities conducted through social media within the UAE. The purpose for these new regulations as provided by Mansour Al Mansouri is that the will help the UAE media sector to remain abreast of the significant developments in electronic media, in addition to enriching and organizing digital content while promoting freedom of expression and constructive dialogue. In addition to this, the regulations will ensure that media material respects the religious, cultural and social values of the UAE.
The Electronic Media Regulation
The new Regulation starts off providing definitions for relevant electronic media outlets. The scope of the regulations application includes all electronic media activities that are carried out inside the United Arab Emirates; this is inclusive of the free zones. The regulation covers any means of online expression, including but not limited to that of writing, painting, music, photography or other methods that are transferable between individuals in any form whether printed, audible or visual.
Electronic Media Activities that should be Licensed
The following forms of electronic media, for the abovementioned regulation, need to acquire a prior license following the provisions:
- The sites used to trade, present and sell print, video and audio materials;
- The electronic publishing activities and on-call printing;
- The specialized websites such as the electronic advertisements, news sites, etc.; and
- Any electronic action that the council deems appropriate;
When UAE citizens, applying for this license, it is necessary that they meet the following requirements per the relevant regulation:
- The applicant shall have the full legal capacity – however, this requirement may be exempt according to the circumstances of the case;
- The applicant should have a good reputation and a history of decent conduct;
- The applicant should not have been convicted of an offense involving a breach of honor or public trust unless such necessary rehabilitation of the applicant takes place or the issuance of a pardon has occurred in his favor by the competent authorities;
- The applicant shall qualify from a tertiary institution, namely from a college, institute or accredited university – however, this requirement may be exempt according to the circumstances of the case;
- The applicant must meet the required activity requirements;
- The applicant should not have any company which has been shut down or closed, or the applicant should not have a company prevented from carrying out specific media activities; he should also not have any suspension or cancellation of license – unless such issue as abovementioned has been remedied or removed;
- The applicant should not have any financial obligations owing to the council;
- The applicant must abide by all instructions and regulations set out for the carrying on of media activities;
- Any additional requirements as thought to be applicable by the committee.
As per the new regulations, each website shall now have a manager who supervises the content of such site. In this regard, the manager will represent the license applicant before the council and government entities or any other third party. This responsible manager will also be responsible for all content published on the site whether the posting of the material was by him/herself or a third party. The regulations set out requirements for the accountable manager similar to those for obtaining a license. However, it is worth mentioning that if the applicant is a natural person, he may act as the manager responsible for the website or mode of electronic media if he/she meets the requirements.
Media Activities on Social Media Platforms
The regulation then goes further to provide for the obtaining of an additional license under this resolution, for commercial purposes using the social media. Applicants must meet the following requirements in this regard:
- The applicant must have a recognized social media account;
- The content posted on such account must meet all the applicable advertising standards or criteria adopted by the council at the time;
- The social media account holders providing paid commercials shall obtain a license from the National Media Council per the applicable regulations and those prescribed in this regulation;
- The account holder will be the person responsible for the content posted on such account.
License Validity Duration and Renewal
Such obtaining of the license for such electronic media is not for an indefinite period. A permit according to the regulations shall be valid for a period of one-year renewable for the same period. The holder of the license or any representatives of such holder has the right to apply for renewal within 30 days from the expiration date or 30 days after such expiration date. The license will be null and void should the applicant or his/her representatives not apply for renewal within the 30-day grace period provided post expiration of the original permit.
The Licensee’s Obligations
The new regulations provide an outline of the commitments the imposition of which will be upon any person who application is accepted. These obligations not only affect the licensee him/herself but will also be binding upon any person representing the licensee or working for him/her in their interest. The depiction of the obligations provided by the regulation are as follows:
- There is an obligation to abide by the type of the media activity and all requirements according to the license;
- A responsibility to obtain the prior consent of the council on any license related modification;
- There is an obligation to provide any information and data as requested by the commission from time to time;
- The parties have to abide by the media activity practice related instructions and regulations set by the commission;
- There is an obligation on the parties to always respect societal values and observe the public interest requirements;
- A commitment to pay the financial dues and fees necessary per the relevant legislation.
The below table outlines the licensing fees as provided by the New Electronic Media Council in its new regulations. The charges are the responsibility of the Minister's Council and such council will be responsible for any addition, deletion or amendment.
Renewal of application
Electronic or online accounts/websites
Trading, selling and displaying audio materials websites and online accounts
Trading, selling and displaying video materials websites and online accounts
Online accounts and websites of electronic publishing and on-call printing-related activities
Selling newspapers and magazines
Selling electronic video games
The implications of the New Regulations on Social Media Influencers
The new provision does not apply to websites of a personal nature, as well as that of blogs. However, it does affect social media influencers. In this regard, social media influencers who run any online business activities, including those mentioned in the regulations, namely, e-commerce, publishing, and selling of print, video and audio material, as well as advertising or promoting brands. The effect of these regulations is that such persons engaged in the abovementioned activities must also obtain a license as per the rules.
Violations of Social Media Etiquette in the UAE
In a recent case in Dubai, the Court considered the breach of privacy that occurs when a person posts pictures of another on social media without the permission of such other person. Concerning the matters, the court held that such cases could be neither waived off nor can there be a reconciliation between the parties involved.
In this case, a teenage girl posted a picture of her friend on social media, allegedly without first obtaining the girl's permission. The family of the latter adolescent girl then filed a case of violation of privacy against the girl who posted the photograph. The family at a later stage tried to withdraw the case at a later stage. However, they were unable to do so, as the law had to run its course. The girl ultimately failed to prove that the photograph she took was with permission from the other girl and the Court of First Instance convicted and sentenced the girl. The case will now continue to be before the Supreme Court.
Penalties for the violation of such privacy includes a jail term of six months and a fine of between AED150,000-500,00. The reason for such a high sentence is that the legislature needs to make it known to the public that the crime of the violation of privacy via social media is a serious offense.
In another judgment, The Federal Appeal Court upheld a previous ruling by the Federal Court of First Instance, which convicted a man and sentenced him to a term of imprisonment of two years. The conviction was due to a poem that the defendant had written and published on social media. This poem violated public order and morality and was in contradiction to the cybercrime law. In this case, the court sentenced the man to a three-month jail sentence and a fine of AED250,000.
The United Arab Emirates is clamping down on electronic media usage and has implemented such new regulations as it deemed necessary. Digital media is one of the most up and coming sectors in the Middle East, especially videos, games, and e-books. Regulating this sector will attract new global investments, which, in turn, will improve its development and competitiveness," Al Mansouri said. The aims achieved by the implementation of the regulations are the supporting of the relevant industries and the control of their activities. This support and management are to ensure that the sectors are capable and that they contribute to the support of the publishing industry. Another aim achieved it the keeping abreast of the rapid developments in the field, and this is to enrich digital content. In furtherance of the objectives, another objective of the regulation is to reinforce electronic media's respect for the cultural, religious and social values of the UAE.