Cyber bullying can be defined as the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature.
The nature, availability and ease of access to the internet today makes this a common problem, the effects of which can be quite devastating on those who are targeted by this sort of communication. Children and teenagers are particularly vulnerable, but adults are also affected, sometimes with catastrophic consequences.
Recognizing this, and that current laws were not up to the task of reducing harm caused by this sort of communication, Parliament has enacted the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015.
The Act has two purposes. The first is to deter, prevent and mitigate harm caused to individuals by digital communications. The second is to provide victims of harmful digital communications with a quick and efficient means of redress.
The Act creates an offence of causing harm by posting digital communication. If convicted a person can be fined up to $50,000 or be imprisoned for up to 2 years.
The Act also sets out some steps an online content host can take which will give that host protection from liability for hosting specific content.
Ten communication principles have been established, which apply to digital communications and an approved agency, which can receive complaints under the Act will be established. It will be July 2017 however, before this agency will be operative.
The purpose of the agency will be to receive and assess complaints under the Act and investigate those as required. In terms of resolving complaints the agency is limited to using advice, negotiation, mediation and persuasion; whichever option is the most appropriate in the circumstances.
If complaints are not resolved at this stage, there is scope to proceed in the District Court, notwithstanding a complaint must first have been received by the approved agency.
To meet the threshold for an order by the District Court, the applicant will need to satisfy the court there has been a serious breach or a threatened serious breach or a repeated breach of one or more of the communication principles, and the breach has caused or is likely to cause harm to the individual.
As mentioned earlier, the Act has created a new offence. Even though the Act is in its infancy, a number of people have been charged with this newly created offence; some offenders being sentenced to a term of imprisonment.
Recently, as reported in the Marlborough Express on 5 July, a Blenheim man has fallen foul of the Harmful Digital Communications Act, being charged under this Act. This gentleman threatened to kill his ex partner on Facebook, leaving a series of threatening messages on the social medial site.
Judge Ruth acknowledged this legislation was in its early days, but went on to sound a warning, saying more than one person has gone to prison as a result of being charged under this legislation and the courts are taking this charge very seriously.
If you feel you are the victim of a harmful digital communication, report the matter to the Police. There is a clear indication from the Police and the courts, that such behavior will not go unpunished. The consequences, if an offender is found guilty are significant.
Maybe someone has posted a digital communication which you consider has caused you harm, but not at the level to be considered an offence, and you want some assistance with the matter.
Community Law Marlborough is available to assist.
You can make an appointment, or just call in and see us at 14 Market Street | We are also available via phone on 0800 266 529 or (03) 577 9919.