Impersonation: Social media users suffer as cybercrime goes unpunished

Hala Tashkandi
Sat, 2019-02-02 01:11

RIYADH: Just like politics, or putting pineapple on pizza, the
internet cannot be categorized as either completely good or
entirely evil.
Since its initial introduction to the public in 1990, the internet
has evolved into to become a monster; home to at least 5.72 billion
indexed web pages as of Jan. 31 (according to
and a staggering amount of data — that has been used both for
benign and malicious purposes.
According to Global Media Insight, a UAE-based research agency,
there were around 30 million internet users in Saudi Arabia at the
beginning of 2018, meaning internet penetration in the country
stands at 91 percent.
The Kingdom also has 25 million social media users (75.19 percent
of the population).
YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the four most-popular
social media sites in the country, and Saudi Arabia has the highest
rate of Twitter adoption in the MENA region.
Due to the sheer size of the internet, and the rate at which it is
growing, it is practically impossible to supervise everything that
happens online, but authorities continue to try to combat
Cybercrime is, of course, a wide-ranging term, the definition of
which varies around the world.
In North Korea, for example, most people are not permitted to
access the internet, so just surfing the web is effectively illegal
Conversely, countries including Libya, Mongolia and Papua New
Guinea have no cybercrime legislation at all, meaning that your
data is much less secure, and infractions are likely to go

Data espionage
In Saudi Arabia, cybercrime can include activities such as
accessing websites blocked by authorities (sites containing
p*********y or sensitive material, for example), hacking into
people’s private accounts, or posting politically sensitive
messages on social media.
There are certain activities, though, that are universally accepted
as being cybercrimes, including gaining illegal access to private
or government information, data espionage, hacking, and trademark
Saudi Arabia’s full Anti-Cybercrime Law can be viewed online,
along with the fines and punishments attached to the various
However, one area it does not touch upon is pretending to be
someone you are not online. The reasons for which people
impersonate others on social media vary.
Some of them may be trying to keep their identities secure. Others
may be trying to garner fame or attention.
For whatever reason, fake accounts purporting to belong to
celebrities, with varying degrees of credibility, can be found all
over social media.
Saudi Arabia has not been immune to the phenomenon, particularly
members of the royal family.
Saudi newspaper Okaz reported in September 2018 that someone in
Lebanon was impersonating Prince Talal bin Sultan on social media,
and that the embassy had initiated legal proceedings against
However, to date, no more information about that investigation has
Even verified social media accounts can sometimes be false.
In December, an Instagram account accredited to Princess Reema bint
Bandar, deputy of planning and development at the General Sports
Authority, was verified by the social media giant.
Princess Reema denied the validity of the account on Twitter, but
not before the imposter had already reached out to multiple people
pretending to be her.
However, neither of those incidents resulted in lasting damage.
There was no financial loss incurred, nor any significant harm. So,
in legal terms, what crime could either imposter be charged
The Saudi Anti-Cybercrime Law only considers identity theft or
impersonation illegal if it contributes to fraud or financial
crime. So the question remains: Are you breaking the law by
pretending to be someone you’re not online?
Okabe & Haushalter, a California-based law firm, puts it
succinctly on its website: “In order to answer the question ‘Is
it legal to pretend to be someone else on social media?’ you will
require legal help from a skilled attorney.
“A lot depends on the facts of your particular case, the platform
or website on which you are impersonating another person, what you
write on your profile page, as well as your actions while
pretending to be someone else.”

One factor that makes it difficult to legislate against social
media impersonation is that its results often lie somewhere between
simply annoying and below actually damaging.
Malek Teffaha, head of communications and localization for Ubisoft
ME, told Arab News how an obsessive video game fan pretended to be
him on Twitter, causing him no small amount of grief.
“At first, he would interact with me aggressively on my personal
Twitter account, until I was forced to block him. He then went on
to create multiple fake Twitter accounts using my actual profile
picture, header, and bio. In a further sick parody, he changed my
last name to various other fruits (Teffaha is Arabic for apple) —
Laymoona, Betekha, and so on.”
The fan continued to harass Teffaha’s followers, or people who
showed support for him, and, using another account, even accused
Teffaha of attempted rape.
However, Teffaha’s attempts to report the accounts fell on deaf
ears, and he resorted to contacting a friend who worked at Twitter
to get the accounts deleted.
“If I hadn’t had a friend at Twitter, they might still be out
there,” he said. “Twitter needs to do more to combat this
In Saudi Arabia, victims of cybercrime can file a complaint at a
police station or to authorities at the Ministry of Internal
But if you find someone pretending to be you online, will it
actually be treated as illegal activity? In the Zettabyte Era,
maybe we should reconsider our definition of cybercrime.

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Source: *FS – All – Science News Net
Impersonation: Social media users suffer as cybercrime goes unpunished