Facebook still popular with Emirati girls

Some girls take extra care to avoid embarrassing their families or leaving them open to blackmail.

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UAE // Many Emirati girls are continuing to use social networking sites - although some take precautions such as using false identities - despite warnings they could embarrass their families or leave themselves open to blackmail.

The practice is often kept secret from the girls' families. Users insist they are safe as long as they use the right privacy settings.

There is, however, considerable pressure on girls to upload pictures, especially on Facebook.

As a result, Dubai Police are seeing more cases of defamation and blackmail, they said last week. Captain Rashid Lootah, the head of Dubai Police's electronic evidence unit, warned parents to monitor their daughters' usage.

Dr Azhar Abuali, the care and rehabilitation director at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, said "girls and women need to use caution and to protect themselves from becoming targets.

"I also strongly advise parents to supervise their child's internet and phone use, and to maintain open dialogue and communication at all times," Dr Abuali added.

Ibrahim Obaid, the undersecretary of the Emirates Sociological Association, said parents "have to advise their kids and focus on how to protect them. So parents need to keep check on everything [children] do, especially with the new technology. They need to keep check, but not in a dictator's way."

KD, a 24-year-old from Al Ain, said Facebook makes it easy for anyone to find girls in their area. She is on the site under a false name. "I don't think this place is safe at all, even with the privacy setting. What if my account gets stolen?" she said. "It's just not worth the hassle."

As for her friends who take fewer precautions, "everyone is entitled to their own [view] ... But why put yourself in danger?"

Her family - like most girls' - does not know she uses Facebook, and would disapprove. "The website is used by guys to get to know girls, especially when they find out she is a local girl," she said. "And the messages I get are not even nice, they are just rude and nasty. I get like a 100 a day."

Maryam Salem, a 24-year-old from Al Ain, is also registered under a false name. She has not trusted the site since her account was hacked a few months ago.

"I had written all my personal details on the site and added a lot of people and someone stole my account," she said. "Luckily the pictures [on "her" page] were not of me."

Her brother Ali Salem said "girls should not add anyone they don't know, only close girl friends."

Eiman al Johari, 24, an architecture graduate from Al Ain, signed up to Facebook only last month. "I went on it to see architecture things and groups," she said. "But I would never write things I am doing - I don't like people to know what I am doing all the time. I don't want to lose my privacy."

Her father, Hussain al Johari, said she was forbidden to upload pictures. "People can use Photoshop and edit pictures as they like. Even with privacy settings they can get hold of them. My daughter's face on Facebook - absolutely not allowed."

He and his daughter are agreed that private life should be just that. "This is not only Facebook, but all other social networks. If the private life goes out, a person goes out - their life has ended."

Hamad Saleh, 24, from Dubai, has little respect for Emirati girls who openly post pictures of themselves. "This is family name and honour, the girl is then known," he said. "No one wants to be with such a girl to marry later on, one everyone has seen.

"Girls should be conservative, they always have been. I do not allow my sisters to put up their pictures."

Not all are so worried, though. "Maybe because here families are more conservative, they prefer not to include names or pictures," said Eiman al Shekele, 23. "But I think it's safe. Everyone else does it."