New Zealand may make cyber-bullying a criminal offense


A participant in the 28th Chaos Communication Congress (28C3) — Behind Enemy Lines computer hacker conference in Berlin, Germany uses her laptop.


Adam Berry

New Zealand is reportedly considering making cyber-bullying a criminal offense.

The country's Law Commission has recommended the change after its finding that cyber-bullying could lead to depression, self-harm and suicide among its mainly adolescent victims, according to ChannelNewsAsia.

The commission, in a report on harmful digital communication, recommended incorporating digital communications into existing laws and targeting menacing comments deemed to have the potential to cause harm. 

Offensive or harmful messages posted on sites like Facebook and Twitter, along with with hurtful text messages, would carry a maximum penalty of three months' jail or a $1,600 fine, the Australia News Network reported.

The new criminal offense would apply to anyone aged 14 and over.

Offenders would be named and shamed, while schools would also be legally required to implement anti-bullying policies and practices.

A Communications Tribunal — described by TVNZ as a "mini-harassment court" — would be created to hear cases.

TVNZ quoted New Zealand law commissioner John Burrows as saying:

"If a communication was grossly offensive, was intended to cause substantial hurt and did in fact do so, then that could be a criminal offense.

"Now, we wouldn't expect that would be used very often at all, we certainly hope it wouldn't be.

"But the fact that you've got something there at the end of the line is an indication that this kind of conduct is not approved by society — it's a marker of what society tolerates."

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