Crackdown on cyber bullies from new law

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BE WARNED: Martin Cocker - no age limit for online abuse. 
PHOTO/SARAH IVEY
BE WARNED: Martin Cocker - no age limit for online abuse. PHOTO/SARAH IVEY

Online abuse should not be a problem in Kaitaia, but it could be, according to NetSafe CEO Martin Cocker.

Ten per cent of New Zealand adults and 20 per cent of secondary students had experienced this.

It was harmful, offensive, and sometimes had serious repercussions on people's health and happiness, so it was important to take notice of online name-calling, public humiliation or trolling (deliberately making comments to upset people).

"These are all examples of cyber bullying or online harassment," Mr Cocker said.

"From sports stars to media personalities to young people, to anyone, I see first-hand that online harassment is not just confined to kids. And with online and offline activities more connected than ever before, it's important that everyone, no matter their age, adopt safe and secure online behaviours."
Martin Cocker

But that was just one part of creating a positive online experience.

Education and online security tools would help, as would the new Harmful Digital Communications Act (the Cyber Bullying Bill), which set out new measures to help individuals take action and simplified having harmful communications removed.

It also introduced new penalties, including a fine of up to $50,000 for an individual or up to $200,000 for a body corporate, or up to two years' jail, for posting or sending a harmful digital communication, and up to three years' jail for the new crime of incitement to suicide.

"Harmful digital communication can take many forms, and covers private messages as well as content shared in public.

It can be an email with offensive content, a social media post that spreads rumours about an individual, even a sext message," Mr Cocker said.

"The common theme is that the digital communication intends to harm someone."

From November NetSafe would have responsibility for receiving, assessing and investigating complaints about harm caused to individuals by digital communications, but it would not be forcing anyone to take action.

"Our expectation is that when we contact someone who has produced something offensive they will do the right thing and take it down, but if we can't resolve things the complainant can make an application to the District Court," he said.

"The District Court will have wide powers and will take into account a range of factors before deciding on the outcome. It will also consider how people responded to the advice NetSafe provided in an attempt to resolve the complaint.

Any order the District Court makes must be complied with.

"There's a lot NetSafe needs to do before this service launches in November.

Until then we remain focused on our purpose of enabling New Zealand internet users to confidently access digital opportunities and prevent online harm.

"Our team should continue to be your first port of call when you or your family need help or expertise related to online safety, online security or anything else you come across on the internet, including scams, cyber bullying, privacy breaches or objectionable material.

Contact NetSafe on 0508 638-723, or go to www.netsafe.org.nz

- Northland Age

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