Principals back bullying crackdown

By Genevieve Helliwell

Western Bay principals are backing a proposed law change that will see cyber bullies held accountable for their actions.

A new tribunal to fight cyber-bullying would have the power to name and shame offenders.

It would also be able to silence cyber bullies by issuing "takedown" orders.

A new criminal offence for publishing offensive comments on Facebook and Twitter and sending hurtful text messages would also be introduced under the Law Commission proposals.

The measures are in a ministerial briefing issued yesterday for Justice Minister Judith Collins as part of a Government crackdown on internet nuisances.

Prime Minister John Key called for a "national conversation" on reducing bullying in schools after cellphone videos of children being attacked went viral last year.

The proposal, made yesterday, was supported by Western Bay principals, who collectively said it was "about time" legislation was put in place surrounding cyber bullying.

Brian Diver, head of Tauranga Intermediate School, said a law change was "well overdue".

"I am in favour of anything that will alleviate the intentional humiliation of people," he said.

"I think many people are gaining access to electronic equipment and as it becomes more accessible, the level of abuse will increase as the number of users proportionately increase. Cyber bullying is a cowardly way to bully others and instead of fronting up face to face, they're hiding behind a computer screen and the anonymity of electronic media."

Henk Popping, of Otumoetai Intermediate, said a law change was "long overdue".

"We live in a digital world where technology is overtaking social etiquette and the laws need to change so people can be held accountable for their actions."

Tauranga Boys' College principal, Robert Mangan, said the law needed to "move on" and recognise this type of behaviour was unacceptable.

"I think it's timely legislation and I certainly agree with it."

"I couldn't really comment if cyber bullying was happening more often now but I think it's easier and I think people think they're more anonymous and they feel less responsible of their actions because they're hiding behind a computer rather than face to face," he said.

"It's a more cowardly form of bullying and there's a lack of association to what they're doing because they don't understand what could happen as a result of their actions ... and I think this [proposal] would be a step towards addressing this."

Otumoetai College's Dave Randell said the proposal was "a good start". "I think this is a good thing and I will support anything positive that will show this type of behaviour is unacceptable and there are legal consequences."

Justice Minister Judith Collins said bullies targeted their victims by cellphone, instant messaging devices and social networking websites. "We must not underestimate the devastating impact this new form of bullying has particularly on young people. It is contributing to increased truancy, failure at school and emotional problems such as depression, self-harm and suicide."

A teenage victim of cyber bullying said a law change, particularly naming-and-shaming bullies, would prevent them from acting out.

"I think it will make a difference and people might think twice if their name is out there because it will bring them shame so I do think this will work."

"I know of a few people who have committed suicide because of bullying so this will make people more accountable ... and I am definitely behind it."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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