Crackdown on cyber-bullying

Columns
Thursday, June 25, 2015

Cyber-bullying is undoubtedly one of the more sinister aspects of what is becoming an increasingly complex and fast-moving digital world.

Technology that hadn't entered our consciousness three or four years ago is now a big part of young people's lives. This is something they are growing up with and adapting to - often learning  its pitfalls the hard way.

The Harmful Digital Communications Bill is on track to become law. It will create a new offence of sending messages or posting material to cause harm, punishable by up to three months in jail or a $2000 fine.

Inciting someone to commit suicide will also carry a maximum three-year jail sentence.

Harmful digital communications could include emails, texts and social media posts used to intimidate others, spread damaging or degrading rumours, and publication of invasive and distressing photographs.

The measures being taken in Parliament cannot happen in isolation though. It's important for young people themselves to be involved in tackling cyber-bullying and that's why the Web Rangers project is something to be encouraged.

The initiative is a collaboration between Netsafe, Google and others to help Kiwi teens campaign for the safe use of the Internet in a creative way.

14 to 17 year olds have the opportunity to attend a workshop in Christchurch, Wellington or Auckland in July. Participants develop a campaign based on the issues they think young people experience online and give advice on how to manage those issues. The top students will be flown to Sydney to present their ideas to Google executives.

This is a wonderful opportunity for teenagers to take a practical stand on the issue as well as learning new skills around marketing and social media. I'd encourage any young person who's interested to put their name forward at www.netsafe.org.nz.

The digital age presents new and exciting ways to learn, communicate and have fun. But it's  essential for that environment to be as safe as possible for our young people.