Bill comes down hard on bullying over social networks

RACHEL THOMAS
Last updated 05:00 21/11/2013

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School principals are getting fed up with spending Mondays sorting out the fallout from a weekend of social media backstabbing, and they hope new legislation will help quash the problem.

Under the Harmful Digital Communications Bill, introduced to Parliament on November 5, people who send messages and post material online with intent to cause harm would face up to three months in jail or a $2000 fine.

Former Te Aroha resident Jenny Watson pulled her 15-year-old daughter out of Te Aroha College at the beginning of this year because of bullying from students, half of which she estimated was happening online.

"When I approached the [principal] about the online bullying he said it was out of school so couldn't do anything about it."

Te Aroha College principal Robin Spencer said it could often be difficult to prove or monitor social networking between students - what happened outside school was out of their control.

"Without this bill the police can't do a lot, whereas this does give some serious consequences for bullies," he said.

The Law Commission recommended a new criminal offence that would apply to anyone over age 14 who posted or distributed material that seriously distresses or humiliated another person.

Watson said school bullies targeted her daughter in person at school and then the harassment continued over Facebook.

Te Aroha College deputy principal Wayne Stringer said systems were in place to try to manage cyberbullying.

"We do make an effort to do our best to get rid of cyberbullying. We are focused on teaching kids to look after and support each other as people and part of that is managing social media."

Morrinsville College principal John Inger welcomed the Bill, saying it may result in online bullying being better addressed by police and the courts.

Both principals said Mondays often saw schools having to deal with the messy aftermath of what had happened between students over the weekend.

"Most of these issues occur outside of school hours, [so] it should not be our responsibility to sort them out," Mr Inger said.

"[But] here at school we sometimes have to deal with the repercussions."

Inger said young people's dependence on digital devices was only just beginning, so it's crucial to start teaching students acceptable online behaviour.

"In the same way that good parents and schools have taught their children responsibility, respect and ethical behaviour, it is now incumbent upon us all to do the same with digital citizenship."

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- Fairfax Media

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