The internet is a powerful tool - it can be used for both good and evil. Rachael Fergusson takes a look at how it was used this year to breach suppression orders, leak soap opera endings and incarcerate us.


Key Points:

The internet can be used for a lot of things, from harmless messages to friends and sharing of photos to the more harmful - hurting others, and even ourselves.

One British teen found the latter out this year when he posted a video of himself driving at excessive speeds.

The 19-year-old taped himself as he drove at 225 kilometres per hour down a Scottish highway, then posted the video on the YouTube website.

He was charged by police as a result.

New Zealanders also pushed the limits in internet use - one teenager was allegedly involved in a multi-million dollar cyber-crime ring.

The 18-year-old man, known online as "AKILL" allegedly played a leading role in cyber-crime that resulted in an estimated $26 million-plus of economic loss.

Police are still investigating.

But it was really social networking sites, which a lot of New Zealanders used the internet for this year.

Facebook, Bebo and MySpace almost became better than leaving the house.

Instead of going out to meet friends, New Zealanders were sending messages, sending drinks and even giving each other presents on the popular sites.

In a report conducted by Hitwise, a company that studies people's interaction on the internet, Bebo was the most popular site - ranking No 4 of the websites visited by New Zealanders.

Bebo had 2.04 per cent of the market share and Facebook - coming in at No 7 - had 1.43 per cent.

But it was not just young people joining the sites, the police even joined up too. Blenheim Police set up their own profile on Bebo to reach out to the community.

Blenheim Police site administrator Constable Dan Mattison told the Marlborough Express it was an avenue for people to pass on information anonymously.

Police said they were utilising technology to create another way for the community to contact them.

"We expect all of the community to use it, young and old, good and bad, visitors and local," police wrote.

"Don't be scared to lay it out, you won't offend us, but be prepared for a bit of feedback."

If the site was successful, Mr Mattison said he might look at creating profiles on other networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to reach other ages and demographics.

An internet safety group, NetSafe said two thirds of secondary school children had pages on the Bebo site.

Internationally the site had about 23 million registered users, it said.

"Bebo's official age is 13, so children younger than 13 shouldn't really be on there. However, there is no way to really police who is using these sites," said NetSafe.

One Nelson mother said she was not going to let her daughter on Bebo any more.

Speaking to Radio New Zealand she said there were a lot of "sick minds" lurking on the social networking sites.

"My daughter is not going back on the internet...it's hard to monitor, but I don't know what, as parents, we do about this."

The 12-year-old had been sent images, including one of an erect penis and several text messages, she said.

"She just didn't realise the extent...I mean, putting her telephone number on there was definitely the wrong thing to do."

In August, two brothers from Hastings used the internet to post an assault of a fellow student.

The judge presiding over the case described the assault as a stupid situation which had got completely out of control and said modern technology - in this case the internet - had been effectively used as a weapon to further humiliate the victim and to glorify the attack.

The boys assaulted the student in front of about 40 young people at a city park, then posted the video on the YouTube website.

Judge Bridget Mackintosh said the assault had been aggravated by the large number of young people who had gathered to watch the pre-arranged fight and that it had been deliberately videotaped and filmed by cellphones.

Judge Mackintosh described the situation as "pack mentality" in which onlookers got "some sort of pleasure and kick" out of seeing the victim being attacked and humiliated.

The internet was also used to breach suppression orders.

Supporters of slain Auckland teenager Augustine Borrell, were told to not put anything on the internet that could breach a court order - shots of the accused were later found on the internet.

The 18-year-old man charged with the stabbing murder of Mr Borrell, 17, at a party in the Auckland suburb of Herne Bay in September, had been granted name suppression when he appeared in the Auckland District Court.

Judge Sarah Fleming added a rider to the suppression order, saying any discussion about the accused man in the internet could breach the order and leave people open to prosecution.

Supporters of the dead youth were warned they could be traced if they named the accused murderer on the internet.

One newspaper reported that photos were on a website, which it would not name.

The paper said the website analysed a television news piece, which for the most part blurred the accused's identity.

However, once slowed and then stopped, the final frame of the piece was not blurred and showed the accused's face - seemingly in breach of the suppression order.

The internet was used to vent frustration with the Shortland Street's serial killer plot - three endings were posted on the YouTube website.

- NZPA