Lynley Bilby is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

High profile NGO the go-to agency in net bullying

Justice Minister Amy Adams considers the trailblazing agency as perhaps the most critical part of the act to get people behaving better in cyberspace.
Justice Minister Amy Adams considers the trailblazing agency as perhaps the most critical part of the act to get people behaving better in cyberspace.

Online safety champion NetSafe will head a new agency as the Government rolls out the second part of a plan targeting bullies on the net.

The high profile non-government organisation has been chosen to handle education, advice and mediation for victims of cyberbullying under the new Harmful Digital Communications Act.

The agency's wide brief includes liaising with content hosts to get posts removed and seeking court orders for judicial take-down notices. It will also front a key cybersafety education role designed to protect people from getting into trouble online.

Justice Minister Amy Adams considers the trailblazing agency as perhaps the most critical part of the act to get people behaving better in cyberspace.

"It just amazes me what people think is okay to put out on social media or through internet communications.

"I think it will send a very clear message to the bullies that this behaviour is not acceptable and that there are consequences.

"They shouldn't be posting this sort of information in the first instance - and that education role is critical - but if they do there will be consequences and if they ignore them they could end up in jail."

The new agency is expected to be up and running by November and provide round-the-clock support for people experiencing bullying on the net.

Ms Adams said its mandate was to be there for people all over the country as the Government tackled the increasingly "abhorrent" and "utterly appalling" standards of communication rife on social media.

"I wanted the approved agency to be responsive, digitally literate, sensible and effective.

"There's got to be a quick, sensible resolution of the vast bulk of issues with the competency and skill set which knows what needs to be referred up the chain and the ability to do that.

"I think NetSafe are going to be effective in that role," she said.

Many of the details of how the new agency would operate were still being fine-tuned and the private organisation would have a large say in how best they could make it work.

"I think it is important that New Zealanders can access them wherever they are up and down the country."

This could even mean working with partner agencies in different regions, she said.

A key function of the agency would be to step in to head off bullying situations before they escalated to serious criminal offending.

"If the system's working well we would like to see most of the matters that NetSafe deal with be resolved there and only a small proportion needing to go to court.

"But equally NetSafe are not the internet police; they are there to negotiate a way through it and it's important if they can't be done on a negotiated or an agreed basis, then it's the court that comes in and makes specific orders."

A person could use the service if something had appeared online about them that breached any one of 10 core communication principles outlined in the act.

NetSafe would approach the host site to get the offending material taken off.

The content host had 48 hours to contact the person who posted the information and give them the option to take it down or explain why it should remain online.

If they failed to respond or the content host was unable to contact the poster the host had to remove the offending material.

However, if the poster objected and claimed it was true and their valid opinion then the issue would escalate to mediation.

At this point if NetSafe could not reach an agreement or it needed urgent attention they could refer it to the district court to be dealt with as a civil matter.

"It can't go to the court unless it's been through the approved agency first.

"The whole point is to say go through the approved agency and see if you can get a quick, negotiated solution rather than straight to court.

"But the approved agency can send it on to court if they think there's an urgency to it," said Ms Adams.

The district court could then issue a take-down order and the content must stop.

If that was breached it became an offence and they would be fined.

A panel of technical advisers with expertise around the internet would be on hand to assist judges in areas of social media and content hosts.

Ms Adams was confident NetSafe were the right team to slot into the critical role.

"We are very lucky to have them. I think they're exactly the right blend of understanding the internet but being very much in that NGO communicator-mediator space rather than a heavy-handed bureaucracy which was the last thing I wanted."

The law

People convicted under the Harmful Digital Communications Act, passed last year, can be fined up to $50,000 or jailed for up to two years for posting private or public messages which fall foul of the new law.

A digital communication should not:

• disclose sensitive personal facts about an individual.

• be threatening, intimidating or menacing.

• be grossly offensive to the affected person.

• be indecent or obscene.

• be used to harass a person.

• make a false allegation.

• publish material that is in breach of confidence.

• incite or encourage anyone to send a message to someone for the purpose of causing harm.

• incite or encourage someone to commit suicide.

• denigrate an individual by reason of his or her colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.

- NZ Herald

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