THE cyber-bullying legislation, The Harmful Digital Communications Bill, has passed its third reading - 116 votes in favour to five votes against.
It is, yet again, another classic case of politicians missing their target when they had a chance to take a shot at the messenger.
It represents, in all its misplaced glorious intentions, a typical neoliberal position that blames the individual rather than the actual system.
It introduces draconian repercussions for any individual found to have created harm to others using the internet as a platform to bully others. The cyber-bullying law creates the criminal offence of "intentionally causing harm in the form of a digital communication" with penalties of two years imprisonment or a maximum fine of $50,000.
The intention is noble - to punish the act of cyber-bullying that creates misery for many, particularly but not exclusively young people. There have been plenty of high profile cases where it has led to destructive individual humiliation and in some instances contributed directly to people dying by suicide.
The legislation makes no mention of this law being applied to the messengers, the Googles, Twitters, chat apps, Facebook et al who provide the conduit for the traffic in vitriol, threats and sexual harassment.
The legislation does say that "complaints can be made to an approved agency, which will attempt to resolve the issue and may contact companies like Google to get material taken down". This is a completely wet response that displays the capitalist view that corporations must be left unfettered and free to make profits, no matter the moral implications, alongside a paralysing fear of taking on the multinationals at their own game and pointing the law at them.
The legislation makes it clear that it is individuals who will cop the blame not the social media mega companies who could, if they chose, exercise more control over what is carried within their various mediums. Some corporates respond and readily take down posts containing nudity but blithely ignore hate messengers, open threats and harassment.
The frequent attacks on women who speak out on issues via the internet are often astonishingly unsavoury. The social media that carry such messengers should be sanctioned.
This would push the anonymous trolls off the stage on which they now often dance with such glee, while destroying a reputation or casually making threats of violence. It could be argued that this would inhibit free speech, but since when has threatening to come round and burn down the house of someone you don't agree with had anything to do with freedom?
There is no doubt that one of the downsides of the internet and other forms of social media, is that it is so easy to denigrate a person anonymously with no repercussions for the author of the attack.
I am constantly amazed by the things people put online about others without thinking for a minute what this might mean in the "real" world. Trolling has become an international pastime in which the nasty put-downs, derogatory remarks, threats of violence and sexual assault swirl about with little or no consequences.
This seems to be partly due to the invisibility cloak of anonymity. Few people would attack someone else with the same venom if they were talking to them face to face.
The internet has been invaded and is being undermined by hordes of cowards. The legislation should force social media, as the messengers, to take some responsibility for the messages they carry.
-Terry Sarten is a writer, musician, satirista and social worker - feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org