Cyberbullying bill's effect on young people 'depends on test cases'

There are fears young people may not understand how serious cyberbullying is amid a crackdown by lawmakers. 

Palmerston North's Youth One Stop Shop (YOSS) deals with young people, who are often susceptible to cyberbullying, both as the offender or victim.

The Harmful Digital Communications Bill passed in Parliament last week, making intentional cause of harm by posting a digital communication a criminal offence, punishable by up to two years' imprisonment or a maximum fine of $50,000.

The legislation passed with an overwhelming majority, with 116 votes for the bill and only five votes against.

People between the ages of 14 and 16 will go through the existing youth justice system and anyone over the age of 16 will be subject to the full extent of the legislation. 

It will not apply to children under the age of 14.

YOSS director Trissel Eriksen said young people might not grasp the extent of the law's implications.

She said the legislation might not make sense to young people until initial cases showed the true consequences.

And whether the new legislation would be effective at curtailing the harmful behaviour in the younger generations would be decided during the first "test cases", she said.

"That is because they don't think anything bad is going to happen to them or their perception is that this is not bad enough to fit on a scale of criminal offending.

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"Is a great deterrent, but it's always going to come down to implementation. Young people struggle to have a sense of where it fits on a continuum... they sometimes make inappropriate decisions."

Everybody needed to learn about appropriate use of technology. "I think it's on a continuum and I think it's a new social skill that young people need to learn.

"It's a little bit harder for them to understand; how to put boundaries around stopping receiving messages."

Palmerston North Youth Council chairwoman Hannah O'Neill said stopping cyberbullying would be hard.

"We should definitely take steps to prevent it. I see it happening all the time."

She said she had friends who experienced it, receiving malicious messages on sites such as Facebook or site Ask.fm.

Simply asking the bully to stop was not effective, as action needed to be taken by people with some "impact".

"It's hard to get away from it," O'Neill said.

Action against bullying could be taken at school, by teachers, she said.

"People need to know that they can't get away with bullying. People have to deal with the consequences."

Eriksen said the problem was also broader - not just young people were affected by it.

"Most young people are reasonably sensible about this. I probably hear similar kinds of stories from adults about the same thing... it's probably people more in general."

"I guess the message to get across to young people is to talk to somebody."

 - Stuff

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