Internet trolls in New Zealand may now face up to two years in prison and a $50,000 (£21,339) fine under the new Harmful Digital Communications Act. The law is intended to help tackle problems such as cyberbullying and other “harmful digital communications.” New Zealand’s Crimes Act has also been changed, which means that internet trolls who tell other online users to commit suicide could be imprisoned for up to three years.
The law, which passed in the New Zealand Parliament with a 116 to 5 majority, also bans internet users from behaving in a “threatening, intimidating or menacing” way, disclosing “sensitive personal facts about another individual” or posting content that contains “a matter that is published in breach of confidence.”
While some people believe the law will be beneficial to victims of cyberbullying, some have criticised it, saying that it could prevent people from having free speech.
Internet trolls will face imprisonment if they post harmful content online, such as false information, intimate videos or pictures of someone without consent. The decision to clamp down on internet trolling comes after the Auckland “Roast Busters” scandal, which involved a group of young men allegedly assaulting underage girls and boasting about their actions on social media websites.
Dominion Post, a New Zealand newspaper, praised the law, stating that it had good intentions, but added that it had taken things too far and could “pick up in its drift-net the sorts of noise and criticism that make for the talk of a free society.”
The paper noted that the new law bans online content that is “used to harass individuals” but also asked whether it would result in other content being banned, such as cartoons mocking religious figures.
Legislator Jacqui Dean addressed concerns over the law preventing people from having free speech, stating: “There have been many thoughtful contributions on this Harmful Digital Communications Bill. I do acknowledge that it is a legislative response that some view as impinging on freedom of speech and perhaps might be too heavy-handed. What I would say is that the protection of our young people in particular – their protection from cyberbullying – is so very important that I think this bill is a very good step, and I commend it to the House.”
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