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Cyber bullying bill: Dark and sinister side to the internet

29 Jun 2015

The Minister of Communications Amy Adams is urging the Speaker of the House to put the Harmful Digital Communications Bill ahead for its third reading. 

“Cyber bullying is a real growing problem,” Adams said in a statement Friday. 

“It’s not a minor issue confined to a small group of people. One-in-five New Zealanders aged 13-30 years have experienced harmful communications on the internet,” she says.

“We need to do something to stem these new and insidious threats.”

Adams says the bill will stop cyber bullies and reduce the ‘devastating impact’ their actions can have, by “simplifying the process for getting abusive material off the internet in a quick and proportionate way.”

Adams says new technologies and the ‘digital age’ has enabled New Zealanders to connect and interact in new ways, but warns, “there’s a dark and sinister side to the internet.”

She says some people use communications technology, including emails, text messaging and social media, to intimidate others, spread damaging or degrading rumours, and publish invasive and intimate photographs. 

“And these are rapidly, cheaply, and anonymously disseminated to huge audiences,” Adams says. “This must stop.”

“Whether it’s in the schoolyard, the workplace or at home, bullying anywhere is intolerable,” continues Adams. “But the reality is that the digital age has allowed the reach and impact of bullying to increase dramatically.”

“Digital communications have unique characteristics and require a targeted response,” Adams explains. “This is why we’re introducing specific legislation to deal with cyber bullying.”

Adams cites several tragic incidents where young people took their own life after facing online bullying. “These deaths were a tragedy and completely preventable,” she says. 

A recent study of 18,000 children from years 5 to 13 found that 31 per cent believed cyber bullying was a problem at their school.

Last year, Barnados in Canterbury saw a 70% increase in calls to the 0800 What's Up helpline where children were in ‘imminent harm’, with cyber bullying cited as behind many of the calls.

Adams says she commends those parties that support to the new legislation. “New Zealanders can feel assured that their Parliament has nutted out the ins-and-outs of this Bill to the fullest extent, and it’s wide-support showcases how Parliament can come together to work on important issues,” she says. 

Adams says the bill will give victims of cyber bullying quick and practical measures to stop and take down abusive material.

“The purpose of the Harmful Digital Communications Bill is to deter, prevent and mitigate harm caused to individuals and it simplifies the process for getting abusive material off the internet, quickly and effectively, while respecting free speech rights,” explains Adams. 

ACT leader David Seymour voted against the bill, and while he says the bill has good intentions, “bad legislation with good intentions is still bad legislation.”

“One of the classic ways bad law is made is when you have some dramatic event, to which people rightfully feel something should be done,” Seymour explains. “Politicians feel compelled to do something. Creating a new law is doing something. It’s easy to assume it is the right thing to do.”

Seymour says the infamous RoastBusters case, where the NZ Police chose not to charge those involved, was the catalyst for the bill. 

“The Independent Police Conduct Authority examined the RoastBusters case and found that police did not “consider all available offences in reaching their decision not to charge.” In short, the case could have, and should have, been dealt with under current law.

"For that case, we did not need a new law,” Seymour says. 

“But Parliament is nevertheless creating new laws and a new agency.”

Seymour says the Government should be updating existing laws, rather than introducing new ones. 

Seymour adds the criminalisation proposed in the bill will likely affect the very people the bill is tying to protect – young people.

“Potentially we could see a 14 year old criminalised for something they foolishly posted online,” he says.

“I also have wider concerns about the Harmful Digital Communications Bill,” he continues. “In particular the effect the ten communications principles, the Approved Agency, and District Court takedown orders will have on Free Speech – a cornerstone of any free society.”

“Our rights are being traded away in this bBill.

“This bill will be ineffective in protecting vulnerable kids and will very likely be used as a weapon to curtail free speech.”

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