Days after news broke of a group of New Zealand teenage boys posting details of their exploits with drunk, underage girls online, the country’s parliament introduced a bill that makes cyberbullying punishable with serious jail time. Recommended by the Law Commission in August, the bill makes sending or posting malicious content online illegal. It would cover threatening and offensive messages, harassment, damaging rumors and invasive photographs sent via social networking, email, mobile phones and websites. Offenders could be fined up to NZ$2,000 (approximately $1,666) or be jailed for up to three months.
Even more interesting, the bill makes incitement to commit suicide punishable by up to three years of jail time. This means that comments such as “She should go kill herself” could land the poster in prison, even when the subject of bullying does not attempt suicide.
Backed by New Zealand Justice Minister Judith Collins, the bill also creates a new agency and enforcement unit as the first filter for complaints from victims. The unit will be able to contact service providers such as Twitter and Facebook to ask that offending material be taken down. If the matter requires more serious action, complaints can be escalated to court, which can mete out penalties such as take-down orders and cease-and-desist notices.
This is the most explicit bill dealing with cyberbullying to date. By comparison, California passed one of the first laws (Assembly Bill 86 2008) in America in 2008 to deal with cyberbullying head on, but that bill only gave schools the power to punish students that bullied others offline or online. New Zealand’s proposed law would give every individual the right to complain about being bullied, and creates a specific enforcement agency to deal with complaints with harsher, more specific penalties.