Microsoft is opposing a proposal to allow cyberbullying victims to take complaints to court, saying it would set a different standard for online abuse in New Zealand compared to playground abuse.

The company told MPs yesterday that new sanctions in the Harmful Digital Communications Bill would not change online behaviour and Government should focus instead on education campaigns and encouraging online self-help tools.

Microsoft New Zealand was one of several industry heavyweights to make a submission on the bill, which would introduce new offences for cyberbullying, create a new agency to deal with complaints, and allow unresolved complaints to be referred to district courts.

The bill included 10 "communications principles" to help authorities decide if online content was harmful, including whether it disclosed sensitive information, made false allegations, or encouraged someone to harm themself.


Microsoft's legal counsel Natasha Crampton said these principles imposed a different standard for online communication, and that enforcing them would be counter-productive to changing people's behaviour.

"We believe that online bullying is more similar to offline bullying than it is different. We believe that the same standard of communication should apply online and offline."

She said cyberbullying should instead be addressed through an awareness-raising campaign and by creating an agency which acted as an intermediary between victims and local and international service providers.

MPs challenged the company, saying online abuse was potentially more harmful because bullies could remain anonymous and offensive content could reach a much wider audience.

Telecom told MPs that the provision amounted to censorship and could be abused by complainants.

Some submitters said the new sanctions could be toothless because the large companies which ran popular social media sites were based overseas.