RAMALLAH – While use of the Internet and social media is growing in the Palestinian territories, some experts warn it has also brought with it the danger of cyber crime -- especially against women – more harmful and at a greater rate than it is worldwide.

Arabic society's conservative and patriarchal nature runs counter to the Internet's call to share everything with everyone, and makes women more vulnerable to cyber threats. As a result, many are very deliberate about not using pictures on the Internet, not only in personal use, but also in their professional lives, fearing their reputations will be ruined.

As a result, even women running for public office think twice about how much exposure they want to give their photos and where. Women running in the municipal elections in the Palestinian territories last year in some cities like Hebron opted not to use their photos on the Internet, sometimes replacing them with flowers.

Public officials are not the only women being threatened with blackmail via the Internet and who are becoming more careful about what they share online.

Maysa' Salem, a 26-year-old writer from a village near Nablus, told The Media Line that she doesn't post any of her photos on Facebook or online, especially after hearing stories of threats via the Internet.

"Facebook in particular is a public place. Technology in general is not a safe place and Facebook and email accounts can be easily hacked," she told The Media Line, explaining that if photos of her were spread through the Internet, it might make her seem indecent and harm her reputation.

More than half of those using the Internet in the Palestinian territories were subject to information threats, according to polls published by the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics last month. Differences were clear between the West Bank, which recorded 49.1% were affected by cyber-crimes and the Gaza Strip where 61.9% said they were targeted.

Since its establishment in 2010, the Palestinian Digital Crimes unit has dealt with hundreds of Internet-related complaints. Last month alone, nine reports of cyber crimes were filed with police.

Due to society's mindset, even the online dissemination of everyday photographs of women can be a potential threat.

Amira (not her real name), 23, was blackmailed by a man she met through the Internet. “I was lured by the fact that he was a good friend and sent him a photo of mine without the headscarf I usually wear,” she told The Media Line. That photo was later used it to blackmail Amira.

Internet use among Palestinians is on the rise despite the threat of cyber crime. One-third of Palestinians polled used the Internet in 2011 compared with 9.2% in 2004. Among those between the ages of 15 and 29, 55% used the Internet in 2011compared to 5% in 2004.

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