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Bahrain warns over abuse of social media

Manama, August 26, 2014

A government crackdown on "fraudulent" social media use could result in its regulation, the Bahraini authorities have warned.

Criminal Investigation and Forensic Science director-general Brigadier Abdulrahman Sinan yesterday (August 25) warned of "the risks involved in exploiting or posting fabricated news or impersonating individuals or organisations online,” said a report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.

"This includes falsely claiming to talk on someone else's behalf," he said.

A number of suspects who impersonated ministers and top government officials have been caught recently, he pointed out.

Authorities also detected fake social media accounts created in the name of a top government minister and a senior official, our sister paper Akhbar Al Khaleej quoted him as saying.

He said there have been cases of messages sent to businessmen from stolen e-mail accounts seeking urgent cash transfers.

"In some instances, with the regional situation as it is, the involvement in this sort of defamation and fraud, and other similar activities, could fall under the definition of terrorism."

Brig Sinan called upon the public to "understand the limits of freedom of speech" and warned that "misuse of the Internet" could result in the future regulation of social media in Bahrain.

What form this regulation might take was not mentioned in the statement, however, certain websites that fall into prohibited categories are already blocked by the country's Internet service providers - with people who try to access them instead shown the message "this website has been blocked for violating regulations and law of the Kingdom of Bahrain".

Social Media Club Bahrain founder and president Ali Sabkar described the problem of fake social media accounts as "very serious."

Trust

"People should only rely on information from trusted or official sources, because there are several fake accounts on social media spreading false news," he told the GDN.

"I think the authorities should take strict action against fake social media accounts that are operated by certain groups."

"These users should understand they will never get recognition and when they are blocked or marked as spam by other users, their accounts should be shut down."

Sabkar said that there were approximately 600,000 Facebook users in Bahrain, while 300,000 people are active on Twitter and 200,000 have Instagram accounts.

He cautioned that Brig Sinan's warning should not be taken lightly - as the government has the technology to track down IP addresses and can make requests to both Facebook and Twitter for more information about certain users.

"We need to educate the masses and make it clear that tough action will be taken against those who misuse social media," said Sabkar.

"The Social Media Club Bahrain has conducted workshops and emphasised how serious the implications could be for those who impersonate others on social media."

In June, the Public Prosecution arrested a suspect in connection with insulting and slandering public figures through social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram under the names @mnarfezhom, @ahfadalwaleed and @ahfadomar

Capital Governorate Chief Prosecutor Mohammed Al Maliki earlier said that the suspect, who is in his 30s, had been tracked down and arrested following complaints lodged by public figures - including a member of parliament, a journalist and a political society member.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry in its report about the 2011 unrest clearly stated that social media played a negative role and fuelled the unrest in Bahrain.

"The commission found numerous examples of exaggeration and misinformation, some highly inflammatory, that were disseminated through social media," said the report. - TradeArabia News Service




Tags: Bahrain | media | clamp | social |

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