Social networking pranks: Privacy violation or a victory for street justice
Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud
New video recordings and live broadcasts conducted by the Syrian Yaman Najjar through social media platforms, with topics that took a different turn, relatively far from those he dealt with during the last period, revealed its fragility.
The new direction of the Syrian influencer was met with requests not to publish from those who were the subject of his recordings, and Najjar pledged to respond. However, tens of thousands of views on the YouTube platform, in addition to the already high views during the live broadcast via TikTok, the short-form video hosting service, indicated that the audience is not interested in whom offended by Najjar’s phone-call pranks, which usually are being streamed on social media.
In the latest two phone-call pranks that Najjar made with a cousin residing outside Syria and another with a young woman residing inside the war-torn country, the character “Lieutenant Bou Sakr,” for which Najjar was famous, is absent and replaced by “Lieutenant Colonel Bou Talal” and “Lieutenant Colonel Bou Yarub,” in a hypothetical military rank promotion that Najjar made for himself.
Najjar’s drift came with a change in subjects and transition from what is general to what is relatively private and what contradicts privacy standards that differ from one person to another, despite the agreement of the two cases, separately, on the need not to publish the prank-calls that had been made with each of them, and for all his reasons.
The issue is that Najjar’s contacts in both cases dealt with the personal aspects of the other party, in one of which Najjar appeared to be “joking” with his cousin, and in the other, he “assumed the role of the judge” in the other prank-call.
Standards are “flexible”
Despite the difference in the measurement of personal space between individuals, there are common and specific standards set by social media platforms in this regard.
But at the same time, it is subject to priorities, as long as the response of social networking services to issues affecting terrorism and extremist ideology does not apply with the same seriousness to social issues, along with a hazy halo associated with the network and platform’s reading and classification of content.
Enab Baladi contacted one of the quality experts at TikTok (who refused to publish his name due to considerations related to working conditions), and he confirmed that TikTok is not considered the most lenient regarding privacy standards among social networking applications.
He explained that Facebook and Instagram are subject to greater restrictions in Arab countries, which puts social networking services that constitute a platform for displaying content in front of comparison.
The standards also differ from one country to another. The user in a foreign country, for example, can delve into topics and provide content that could be blocked if the broadcast was from an Arab country, he added.
Regarding the common red lines between these platforms, the quality expert pointed out that there is a long list for TikTok, but it is internal, but at the same time, it deals firmly with issues of terrorism, sexual content, child abuse, and human and arms trafficking.
Safwan Moshli, social researcher, spoke to Enab Baladi about the potential harm caused by the misuse of social networking, pointing out the potential social harm left by negative dealing with topics of this kind.
Moshli said, “Arab countries lack the concept of civil rights due to dictatorial regimes, so we do not know its dimensions and importance.”
But there are countries that are so sensitive to it that if governments and authorities illegally obtain incriminating information on a person, the person cannot be punished on the basis of it”, he added.
Looking at cases of privacy breaches on the basis of “achieving a specific right,” as the offender sees, Moshli said that accountability here depends on whether the person violated a prevailing social system in the interest of a belligerent social system, such as publishing offensive content, for example, that violates certain societal values.
The researcher considered that what Yaman Najjar, for example, or any publisher of content of this kind, is doing does not fall under the name “street justice” because the term as a whole is inaccurate.
“There is no justice without law or custom, and even custom requires specialists in its application, and no individual has the right to pass judgment on an individual or group, whether by custom or law,” he adds.
Social media pranks
Some of the phone-call pranks carried out by Syrians, such as Maysoon Bayrakdar and Yaman Najjar, against people affiliated with the Syrian regime are an attempt to “infiltrate the enemy,” according to what the perpetrators of those pranks may see, but they are a violation of the rights of others in some aspect.
Under new rules, these pranks will not be acceptable if the Syrian society returns to stability because the social norm and the regulating laws, or those that will be effective at that time, will not allow a person to practice them outside of exceptional circumstances.
Streaming such pranks on social media in this case is definitely not subject to the local system but to the globalization system.
Just as one person publishes another person’s violations out of loyalty to “revolutionary values,” the other person publishes issues related to passion, marriage, and so on, according to another system that is under formation, which is “moral non-compliance,” which is inconsistent with the local system in Syria.
For example, if a person obtains information from another who is offending his wife and publishes the information under the pretext of defending and advocating for women within a traditional society, he will not find voices opposing this publication, given that the breach came in the interest of what is desirable at the global level.
Turkey-based Syrian lawyer Hussam Sarhan told Enab Baladi that all crimes related to the means of communication fall under the heading of electronic crimes.
However, the ruling in these cases is based on Ijtihad (Legal term to find solution to a legal question), according to Sarhan.
There are human rights trends that say that if the phone call prank did not cause harm, its publication is not considered a crime, and the matter depends on the merits of the conversation that took place during it, and on the basis of that, the crime and punishment are determined, Sarhan says.
He added that publishing the call is not considered a crime unless it leads to the occurrence of a felony or a crime, and as long as it does not result in tangible damage, while other human rights bodies suggest that it is considered a crime simply because it violates the privacy of the other party.
Sarhan assured that although such pranks are not socially unacceptable, the law may deal with them on the basis of “there is no crime without a text,” regardless of social acceptance and rejection.
The researcher, Moshli, believes that publishing, in this case, violates the values of social honesty, at the very least, and cannot be compared to cases that famous people may be exposed to.
For example, merely hinting at those cases can be considered a crime, given that the topic is related to a public figure, unlike the cases under discussion.
The Youtuber, Najjar, was recently under focus and has been criticized by some people for publishing video recordings of live broadcast sessions, during which he contacted members of the regime’s security and police, during which they talked about embezzlement and violations by figures affiliated with the regime.
Najjar also said in a live broadcast that he called the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, through a Russian number for the latter, who quickly hung up the line without confirming or denying that the recipient of the call was Bashar al-Assad.
Among the criticisms that Najjar faced was the threat of a member of the Air Force Intelligence to arrest his family members before he deleted the video recording.
Also, Syrian actor Adnan Abu al-Shamat attacked Najjar on Facebook for talking about the suicide of the young woman who appeared in Najjar’s pranks, which the Youtuber denied in another broadcast via TikTok.
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