Cyberbullying is now a crime in New Zealand after the country’s parliament passed the Harmful Digital Communications Bill. Under the new law, offenders face jail time and a hefty fine.
The bill, which passed by a 116-to-5 vote in the New Zealand Parliament, covers any form of electronic communication, including text messages, photos, recordings, and more. It also defines “harm” as “serious emotional distress,” and lays out a detailed description of “intimate visual recording.”
If a person is found to have committed a cyberbullying offense, they face an imprisonment term of up to two years and a fine up to NZ$50,000 (about $33,500).
The law also addresses the consequences for someone inciting another person to commit suicide: “A person commits an offence who incites, counsels, or procures another person to commit suicide, even if that other person does not commit or attempt to commit suicide in consequence of that conduct.” An offender of this subsection can get up to three years in prison.
Another section of the bill describes a safe harbor provision for websites, which can work with a formal agency to be set up by New Zealand’s government to commit to removing offending content within 48 hours.
New research analyzing a number of studies on the matter finds that cyberbullying on social media is linked to depression in teens. “Kids really are hesitant to tell anyone when cyberbullying occurs,” said Michele Hamm, a pediatrics researcher at the University of Alberta. “There seems to be a common fear that if they tell their parents, for example, they’ll lose their Internet access.”
Pasadena High School in California is trying a unique approach to combat cyberbullying that puts some of the onus on the students themselves.
In the U.S., most states have anti-bullying laws and policies in place, though no federal law directly addresses the matter.