Govt acts on cyber bullies

By Cherie Taylor

Les Pinkerton's 17-year-old daughter, Micaela Pinkerton-Stothers, committed suicide in July 2011. Photo / Alan Gibson
Les Pinkerton's 17-year-old daughter, Micaela Pinkerton-Stothers, committed suicide in July 2011. Photo / Alan Gibson

Justice Minister Judith Collins is to outline new measures to curb cyber bullying within the next few weeks.

Her intentions were signalled yesterday after Rotorua coroner Wallace Bain repeated calls for laws to be urgently introduced to control digital bullying in light of another teenager taking her life after she set up a Facebook page targeting herself.

Dr Bain found that 17-year-old Micaela Pinkerton-Stothers from Tokoroa took her own life on July 24, 2011 - the day after she and her boyfriend split up.

It was first believed she might have taken her life because of cyber bullying as a rumour page on Facebook had hateful messages posted stating Micaela had had an abortion.

However, during the inquest into her death, one of her friends said the pair had set up a gossip rumour page, with her posting the hurtful messages herself, using another name.

Micaela appeared distressed by the rumours, crying to family and telling them she was being bullied.

Dr Bain said it appeared Micaela had not been targeted by bullies.

However, in his findings, he highlighted a story that ran in Rotorua's Daily Post about a gossip page that was naming and shaming local youth, and another case involving 15-year-old Hayley-Ann Fenton, who took her own life after being sent threatening messages from her former boyfriend's wife.

Dr Bain said cyber and text bullying was a worrying trend and there needed to be law reform on the issue. He repeated previous calls for "laws to control cyber bullying and cyber communication to be brought forward as a matter of some urgency".

Rotorua Facebook pages, now removed, have named people as drug abusers and thieves.

Dr Bain said young people were extremely vulnerable to cyber and text bullying, sometimes resulting in their taking their own lives.

The inquest raised very unusual aspects including the setting up of the Facebook page with the responses monitored.

" ... in the court's opinion, it simply reinforces the unsettled state of mind Micaela was in."

Another issue was what young people needed to do if they received a suicidal-type message from a friend, Dr Bain said.

"Time and again a close friend will send these messages and within a short period of time, will have committed suicide. Young people are concerned about not breaching confidences ... yet on the other hand, after the event, all wish they had been able to do something about it and possibly got their friends some help."

A spokeswoman for Ms Collins' office said the minister had asked the Law Commission to fast-track a review of the laws around telecommunications and the internet.

The minister is due to take those recommendations to Parliament in the next two weeks.

A public announcement due this month will include new laws regarding incitement to instigate suicide whether the person commits suicide or not, and updating existing digital laws.APN

- NZ Herald

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