Sending insulting text messages via social media platforms is no joke in the UAE; hundreds of people are learning that the hard way. 

On Monday, Abu Dhabi Public Prosecutors revealed that the number of individuals being taken to court over social media abuse charges has significantly increased this year. 

In 2019, local authorities handled 512 cases of violations compared to 357 cases reported in 2018, according to figures released by the department. However, numbers were higher the year before, with a total of 392 cases of social media abuse in 2017. 

Defendants were charged with crimes including:

  • Online harassment
  • Extortion
  • Threats 
  • Blackmail
  • Publishing
  • Spreading false information
  • Encroaching on the privacy of others
  • Posting and spreading abusive comments
  • Posting fake ads and rumors
  • Swearing
  • Defamation
  • Inciting others to commit crimes and fraud 

The UAE's public prosecutors issued warnings urging the public to follow the online laws, respect individual's privacy, and "refrain from spreading rumors on social media to avoid being prosecuted," Khaleej Times reported. 

In October, Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum advised locals to follow specific guidelines when posting on social media. His advice was accompanied by a list of 10 characteristics every Emirati should have when interacting with others online. 

The list includes "Be kind, welcoming and tolerant towards others," "Be useful to others by sharing your knowledge and ideas that contribute to both social and humanitarian initiatives," and "Integrate with others on social media through language exchange and discussions."

Emirati online representatives and influencers are also generally encouraged to share posts that are in line with the UAE's vision in its entirety. 

The UAE implements a strict cybercrime law

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In the country, social media falls under the cybercrime law, and violations can be strictly punished with fines, jail terms, and even deportation. 

Last year, a UAE court fined a man for calling his fiancée "idiot" in a WhatsApp text. A year prior to that, a local court deported a man for insulting his wife via the messaging app. And these are only two examples of a pool of arrests and punishments. 

The cybercrime legislation prohibits internet users and publishers from offending, defaming, insulting, or ridiculing any religion and from provoking hate speech. Its laws particularly stipulate provisions that prohibit content that insults Islamic principles, or promotes apostasy, leaving Islam, or committing sinful acts. Offenders face a prison sentence reaching up to seven years, along with a fine of up to one million dirhams ($272,245). 

Publishing information, news, statements, or rumors "with intent to make sarcasm or damage the reputation, prestige or stature of the State or any of its institutions or its president, vice-president, any of the rulers of the Emirates, their crown princes, or the deputy rulers of the Emirates, the State flag, the national peace, its logo, national anthem or any of its symbols" is also punishable by temporary imprisonment and a fine of up to one million dirhams ($272,245).