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Thu 30 Jan 2014 12:04 PM

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Saudi academics warn against tweets criticising public figures

Comes amid a spate of Twitter and Facebook posts directed at judges, scientists, writers and officials.

Saudi academics warn against tweets criticising public figures

Saudi academics have warned against criticising public figures on social media and called for the establishment of a national centre to combat IT-related crimes amid a spate of Twitter and Facebook posts directed at judges, scientists, writers and officials.

Speaking to an Arabic language newspaper, several Saudi academics warned social media had become an arena for cyber war against public personalities.

They said Twitter users had used cartoon characters to mock judges and other public figures to the point of slander and defamation.

Khaled Bin Salem Al Dinawi, Dean of the College of Shariah and Islamic Studies at Imam Mohammed Bin Saud Islamic University in Al Ahsa, said it was against Islam to mock or criticise judges and other important people on social media, Arab News reported.

“This will further deepen the wounds of the nation and erode trust in its judges,” he was quoted as saying. “Muslims should always be tolerant and forgiving.”

Khaled Bin Abdulaziz Al Shalfan, dean of the university’s recruitment centre, said networking tools had made it very easy for people to communicate with each other but warned against using these tools to propagate harmful ideas. However, under the pretext of the freedom of speech, some users of social media had defamed innocent people and spread false rumours.

“These users should balance between their personal freedom and the danger these tools might pose to others,” he said.

He called for social media and websites to be strictly regulated.

It comes as research by a Saudi scholar in the UK has found Twitter users in the kingdom considered the social networking site an essential and irreplaceable “artery of life.”

In his master’s thesis at the British University of Bedford, Abdullah Al Rakf argued that the extent of freedom exercised on social networking platforms had given broad momentum to claims of changing society for the better.

The university adopted the research in new media affairs, which concluded that Twitter had led to the birth of “citizen journalism” that can be used at any time and place.

Al Rakf’s research revealed that 50 percent of Twitter users in Saudi Arabia were aged below 30. Around 27 percent of users were below the age of 40, while only two percent were 50 years of age or older.

Around 24 percent of Twitter users had a bachelor’s degree, while about 14 percent of users had postgraduate degrees. Only 51 percent were employed.

According to the study, about 65 percent of users used Twitter every hour. They received news about 70 percent faster on the site than through traditional media outlets, it found.