Bay News column

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Before Parliament rose for a two week Recess we passed the Harmful Digital Communications Bill with cross-party support.

In today’s modern world, where most school children have smartphones and social media accounts, many have to deal with issues like cyberbullying that were simply not problems when their parents were younger.

While bullying has always been a problem, the Internet has made it easier to intimidate and threaten people, spread rumours and gossip and disseminate private photos. We have seen the devastating impact this can have - especially on young people. A staggering one in five New Zealanders aged 13 to 30 have experienced cyberbullying.

This Bill makes it an offence to send messages and post material online that deliberately causes serious emotional distress. It also makes it an offence to incite someone to commit suicide.

An approved agency will be established to resolve complaints about harmful digital communications. It will raise awareness and provide information to schools to help both students and teachers tackle this issue.

The Bill also provides an effective way for people get online material taken offline. Content hosts will have the option of following a simple process for handling complaints when someone requests that harmful content be removed. The creator of the content will have an opportunity to respond to allegations.

The effects on freedom of speech have been carefully considered in drafting this law and care has been taken to protect this right. It is important to note that this freedom has always had limits, and I believe it is protected in this Bill.

I am proud that our Parliament has taken action on this issue in a bipartisan way. It is important that as legislators we stay up to date with the changing world, and that our laws reflect current society and the challenges we face.