Cyberbullying: A Crime in New Zealand

There’s no question: Cyberbullying is a rampant, serious problem that needs to be addressed.

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, about one in four teens has been cyberbullied. One in six admit to having cyberbullied others at some point in their lives. And we all know about the devastating, and sometimes fatal, effects of bullying in any form.

To help stop cyberbullying, New Zealand recently passed a controversial new law.

Known as the Harmful Digital Communications Bill, it prohibits sending any form of electronic communication that denigrates a person’s “colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.”

If a person is found guilty of causing “serious emotional distress” through any form of electronic communication such as a text, a photo, or a recording, they could be sentenced to up to two years in jail.


The legislation also prohibits aiding and abetting suicide. “Even if that other person does not commit or attempt to commit suicide in consequence of that conduct,” a person who incites, counsels, or procures another person to commit suicide could face three years of imprisonment.

New Zealand will also set up a new digital agency to deal with complaints about offending content on sites like Twitter and Facebook. “These publishers will be able to sign safe harbor deals with this new agency,” reports engadget, “as long as they promise to delete allegedly offending messages within 48 hours of discovery.”

Engadget also reports that there are “criticisms that the open-ended wording of the bill could cause kids to be criminalized.” And according to the NZ Herald, opponents warn that the bill “is too vague and could be used as a weapon against free speech.” In fact, it could have a chilling effect on freedom of speech, according to Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei and Act Party leader David Seymour, reports the Herald.

The concern is that any criticism a person makes through electronic communication could be construed as causing serious emotional distress, and lead to jail time for an offender. People might worry that any criticism they make through electronic communication could be construed as denigrative, and they may become afraid to express themselves online.

Clearer legislation would set detailed definitions of and requirements for emotional distress, and perhaps require repeated electronic communication denigration to qualify as punishable. This is because bullying is often defined as “repeated and unwanted aggressive behavior that occurs over a period of time with an imbalance of power between the bully and the victim.”

What do you think of New Zealand’s new law? How would you like to see cyberbullying addressed where you live?

Also check out:

Cyberbullying? This App Helps You STOPit

Safe Social Media With the SodaPop App

School Bullying Prevention Difference Makers

US State Anti-Bullying Laws and Policies

Info for Teachers, Parents, and Students in New Zealand

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