Laws on Social Media in the UAE

24 Mar 2022

“Social media is something of a double-edged sword. At its best, social media offers unprecedented opportunities for marginalized people to speak and bring much-needed attention to the issues they face. At its worst, social media also offers ‘everyone’ an unprecedented opportunity to share in collective outrage without reflection.” – Roxane Gay

Social media has seen phenomenal growth over the last 20 years and has undoubtedly become an integral part of our daily lives. Social media has gone from an entertaining pastime to insinuating itself into the corporate world, politics, and the government in a span of a little under a decade.

The UAE has administered strict Cyber laws, and social media – including WhatsApp and Facebook, is heavily regulated. There are a handful of legal risks involved regarding social media. It is imperative for any individual residing in the UAE to have an awareness of the applicable laws and regulations to adhere to social media usage diligently.

The laws that govern social media or any cyber-related matter are Federal Law Number 5 of 2012, also known as the Cyber Crime Law, the UAE Penal Code – Federal Law Number 3 of 1987, and the Copyright Law – Federal Law Number 7 of 2002.

Cyber Crime Law

The implementation of the Cyber Crime Law was intended for battling several cyber offenses, including sharing and posting online content that violates an individual’s privacy, defamatory speech, insulting any religions or symbols of State, or any speech in regards to overthrowing the government.

As per Article 21 section 1 of the Cyber Crime Law, the usage of any computer network or any electronic information system to invade an individual’s privacy by the methods of eavesdropping, recording, transferring, or disclosing conversations, images, or audio is punishable by law and is subject to at least six months imprisonment and a fine of at least AED 150,000.

Section 2 further extends the fine to AED 250,000 and the imprisonment period to 1 year if an individual used any electronic information system to alter or process a photo or recording to defame, insult, attack, or invade another person’s privacy.

Article 21 of the Cyber Crime Law provides that posting a picture of someone online without their consent is offensive. This right is also supported by the UAE Penal Code and the Copyright Law.

Additionally, Article 22 provides a protection provision for companies. It states that a fine between AED 500,000 to AED 1 million will be administered to any individual that uses information technology, websites, or any computer network to disclose confidential information that one may have obtained from their workplace.

Under Article 28, fine and temporary imprisonment is observed subject to any individual who runs or establishes a website or uses any information online with the intention of publishing any information, news, or even cartoon drawings that may be a threat or endangerment to national security or public order, will receive a fine of at least AED 1 million.

Similarly, Article 29 stipulates fine and temporary imprisonment as punishment for whoever publishes any information, statement, news, or rumors online with the intent to defame the reputation and prestige of the State or any of its institutions or the rulers of the Emirates, State’s flag, national anthem, etc., and whoever does so will incur a fine of AED 1 million.

In addition to the State’s protection, Article 30 also contains a provision that specifies life imprisonment to any individual who manages or establishes a website or publishes information online or over any computer network with the intention of overthrowing the government, changing the ruling system of the State, or even derange the constitution and laws of the country. Opposing the basic principles or the provisions of the constitution shall also constitute punishment of life imprisonment, and the same punishment will be applicable to any individual who facilitates or encourages any individual to commit these acts.

Moreover, the UAE being a Muslim nation with a rich Islamic heritage, the country has established its legal framework on the basis of Shari’a Law, and under Article 35, any individual who uses the computer network through the means of a website to

  1. Insult the sanctity of Islam or any of its rituals;
  2. Insult the sanctity or rituals of any other religion that is sacred to the provisions of Sharia Law;
  3. Insulting or offending any divine religion; or
  4. Condoning, promoting, or provoking any sin, shall incur a fine between AED 250,000 to AED 1 million. Furthermore, the provision stipulates that insulting the Divinity (Allah, God), any of his messengers and prophets, or insults the whole foundation of Islam and cause harm to the principles and constitution of Shari’a law shall be punished with imprisonment for up to 7 years.

The Cybercrime law further states under Article 42 that the Court may decide the deportation of a foreigner who has committed any of the acts mentioned above, or any act that is mentioned in the Cyber Crime Law, and deportation is at the Court’s discretion.

According to Article 47 of the law, an individual can face prosecution even when he is out of the country. It is usually possible for cases that are subject to a crime related to the government or any institution owned by the government.


The UAE takes defamation cases very seriously, and the last few years have seen a lot of high-profile defamation cases in the UAE. It is important to note that any derogatory statement made against an individual, whether it is unnamed or not, will lead to criminal charges of defamation in the UAE. Here the victim can approach criminal lawyers to help with legal procedures without any delay which can attract certain punishments to the offender. Unlike the UK or Saudi Arabia, where defamation is a civil case, it is considered a criminal offence in the UAE.

According to the UAE Penal Code, Federal Law Number 3 of 1987, there are two main offences of defamation.

The first one is listed under Article 372 and states that libel by any means of publicity that causes a victim of public hatred or contempt is a punishable offence and can result in a 2-year detention period and an AED 20,000 fine.

Similarly, Article 373 mentions that any individual who resorts to malicious or dishonest allegations against a person where he becomes publicly humiliated will incur a fine of AED 20,000, and a detention period of 2 years is also applicable.

In order for a victim of defamation to succeed with the criminal complaint, they must prove several factors such as

  1. The prima facie of a derogatory statement made against the victim;
  2. That derogatory comment was given to a third party, either written or verbal;
  3. That statement resulted in damage to the victim. The Court of Cassation, also known as the Supreme Court, is the highest court in the UAE.

It stipulated that a defamatory statement is a statement with the capability to humiliate the victim (defamed person) or subject him to society’s punishment.

The Court also held that any comment online that contains criticism that exceeds the normal limits against someone or is likely to cause damage or harm someone’s reputation should also be regarded as a defamatory comment. Any defamatory comments made against the government, a public servant, or the royal family in Dubai will be subject to severe punishment. Furthermore, any derogatory comment that tarnished the reputation of a family will also attract severe punishments.