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JEDDAH: Under Saudi cybercrime law, pranksters can face a penalty of SR5 million (more than $1.3 million) and three years in prison, according to a legal expert.
Dr Majed Garoub told Arab News that posting pranks on social media is a crime in Saudi Arabia and classified as a violation of the country’s anti-cybercrime law.
“The penalty for such a crime ranges from SR500,000 to SR5 million or a term of imprisonment of six months to three years. However, both sanctions can be applied, depending on the nature of the infringing content.
He added that posting pranks on social media is a violation even if it is a prank with consent.
“A crime is a crime. We now have a law that criminalizes these activities and considers them offensive. It’s also considered a crime if someone reposts, likes or retweets a prank,” Garoub said.
Giving his personal opinion, the lawyer believes that anyone who reposts, likes or retweets infringing content should be punished with the maximum penalty. However, he said the legal penalties take into account the circumstances of each violation.
Garoub justified his view by saying that the first offender may have committed the content under the influence of some emotional factors or be unaware of its negative effect, but whoever retweets or reposts it should have looked at the content, reaffirming his belief in the contents.
As for young offenders, Garoub said young people are treated differently.
“The authorities force them to appear for investigation through a certain mechanism that takes into account their age and the presence of their guardians. There are special courts, youth detention centers for offenders who are still minors,” he said.
He added that investigators and judges also take into account the age of the offender and apply the punishments and jail orders based on their age and illegal acts.
Talking about the difference from a legal point of view between the pranks that some people post on social media and what we see on TV, Garoubs said that pranks on social media are different from pranks on TV because the latter present comedies.
“Legally, the two are different. Television broadcasts are subject to the regulations of the General Audiovisual Commissariat while violations published on social media platforms are subject to the anti-cybercrime law,” he said.
Hasan Faleh Al-Nahsi, a Saudi social media influencer, said some social media users play pranks to collect as many followers as possible.
“Some of them also think it’s a way to please their followers, and it’s become a phenomenon on social media. However, people should be aware that these activities are illegal. Awareness campaigns should also be carried out to warn social media users against the negative impact of these illicit activities,” Al-Nahsi told Arab News.
According to psychology scholar Khaled Al-Zahrani, social media platforms including Twitter, TikTok and many others have attracted various segments of society from both genders and different age groups for different reasons.
“Many young and adult social media users have found in these social media apps a place to seek fame and even income. For these reasons, these users sometimes tend to talk about controversial topics or approach them in a funny way. Their goal is to gain subscribers and increase the number of views of the materials they produce or publish,” Al-Zahrani said.
Al-Zahrani said these people’s legal knowledge of cybercrimes is limited. They may also be unaware of the cultural background of the society, and this may be because they are exposed to different sources of cultures and information and they think such things are accepted in the Saudi society.
“These people are controlled by the rules of the social media platform they use, for which they will be penalized if they break them,” he said.
In the case of others, Al-Zahrani said, some of those who produce prank content may try to portray themselves as comedians. “However, the goal is money,” he said.