The government is the real cyberbully

The government is the real cyberbully

Summary: In forcing its regulations on New Zealand citizens, the government has become a cyberbully; the very thing it is seeking to prevent.


What delicate little flowers we have become. Just because some people say nasty things online, our nanny state is considering a fresh crackdown on freedom of speech in New Zealand.

A Law Commission report on cyberbullying has recommended that a Communications Tribunal be created. The tribunal would have the power to name and shame online offenders, and force ISPs or websites to take down content.

The Law Commission also proposed the creation of a new electronic communications offence for those aged 14 and over, with fines of up to NZ$2000 or three months in jail.

And all for sending a hurtful text message!

Justice Minister Judith Collins has welcomed the Law Commission's report, saying that it gives cyberbullies a message that their behaviour must stop.

However, the minister must pause for thought before pushing for any changes to the law.

I am sure that cyberbullying can be distressing, but it is just the online version of what school kids have always faced. Have people forgotten the old slogan "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me"?

We also have sufficient laws to deal with some harassment, like defamation.

The opposition Labour Party's ICT spokesperson Clare Curran has warned against "heavy-handed" regulations, saying that the internet is hard to regulate.

The Tech Liberty lobby group also warned of dangers to freedom of speech. It pointed out that "significant emotional distress" is a very low threshold, especially as excitable teenagers are the focus of the proposed law changes.

Such critics are absolutely right.

The Law Commission also proposes a new offence of inciting people to commit suicide.

But what kid hasn't said "drop dead" to someone in a fit of anger? And I can't count the number of times my brother used to tell me to go and "play with the cars" on the nearby motorway. If the commission recommendations become law, police will face a nightmare implementing them. Lawyers will also have a field day arguing over the extent of the alleged "hurt" or "harm".

I would argue that the government has become a cyberbully itself.

We see this in New Zealand, where our government is working with the US government to bully Kim Dotcom, who now faces a NZ$2.5 million legal bill, because he threatens the Hollywood interests of those who fund their president.

We also see it in Australia, where the government bullies the media that it dislikes, and also plans to regulate newspapers and online content, even including blogs that have few readers.

Indeed, it is time we all spoke out against such government nannying and realised that with their proposed measures adding to their existing overbearing activities, the government is the real cyberbully.

Topics: Government, Government AU, Social Enterprise

Darren Greenwood

About Darren Greenwood

Darren Greenwood has been in journalism, not all of it IT, since the days of typewriters and long before the web spun its way around the world.

Coming from Yorkshire, he can be blunt, and though having resided in New Zealand, as well as Australia, for quite some time, he insists he is not one of the 'sheeple!'

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  • You can't really see the problem can you?

    'I am sure that cyberbullying can be distressing, but it is just the online version of what school kids have always faced. Have people forgotten the old slogan "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me"?'

    So you are unfamiliar with the real damage done by bullying, the ongoing distress and the suicides. I suppose your advice to the depressed is "just get over it". We've also had discrimination, domestic violence, murder and all sorts of other goodies for a long time, so I suppose we should just learn to live with them.

    Or is this just another ZDNet clickbait article?
    • Re: and the suicides

      Teens who commit suicide do so for a variety of reasons, or even for no known reason at all. To blame it on "bullying" is disingenuous, unless you circularly define "bullying" as "whatever was the last nasty said to them prior to them killing themselves".

      Yes, people are jerks. If it was illegal to be a jerk, we would all end up in jail at some point. If someone happens to be a jerk to someone else who just happens to then go and kill themselves, do we then try to blame it on the jerk, no matter what?
    • Ironic (@Tony_McS)

      "you are unfamiliar with the real damage done" ... "just another clickbait article".

      I guess you agree with the article, in that if you dont like what someone says it is fair to reply with unsupported & judgemental statements, or bullying.

      Welcome to the age of PC, where Newton's law ("every action there is a reaction") now applies to non-physical states.
  • Sooner or later ...

    ... the first teenager will kill themself because they were accused of cyberbullying. And then what will we do?
    • Well, somewhere somehow teachers and principals can no longer reprimand

      unruly children...

      Then again, we have unruly adults in colleges and their admins won't kick the wastrels out because to do so eliminates a warm body bringing in (obscene amounts of) money based on today's outlandish college costs... (oh, the day college becomes unnecessary is the day real opportunities arrive that don't require 4-year degrees that don't provide wages necessary to repay student loans... try saving money on a minimum wage job to get the college needed to land a job... I also forgot to mention that today's entry level jobs even require "5 years' experience". On top of the overpriced degree. For an ENTRY LEVEL JOB.

      Anyone who thinks the current system works is a tool or a fool.
  • To an extent...

    Of course we know that kids can be jerks sometimes, and yes, we (and I use this term to include practically all of us) have said or done things that would be classed as bullying (picking fights, calling names, general slander, and so on).

    Where these laws should be targeting is the repeat offenders. The ones that go out of their way to hurt or humiliate their fellow classmates, not out of a "heat of the moment" sort of thing, but do it for the fun of it. And cyberbullying is just as bad if not worse. Normal bullies can be separated from their victims, but cyberbullies are relentless. Yes, you can block and report these user accounts, but they will just register another account and bombard your news feed or inbox with whatever.

    We shouldn't live in a nanny state where you can get arrested for accusing another person for farting, but equally we shouldn't live in a state where we can get abused and humiliated to the point of suicide and simply get told "suck it up, princess".
  • Government Bullying And Censorship

    It Is Indeed Regretable That New Zealand Has Not Yet Learned From The Obvious Mistakes Now Evident And Originally Made In The United States. Heavy Handed And Broad In Scope Regulations Have All But Shut Down Free Speech And A Smooth Running Economy. I See Government Regulators In Every Small Detail Of Peoples Lives Here And The Atmosphere Of Big Brother Is Watching Is Always There. Darren Is Right In Bringing This To The Forefront For Discussion. The People In Gov't Both In N.Z. And U.S.A. Are Cut From The Same Cloth And Will Always Feel That They Have The Right To Ever Expanding Nanny State Control. Don't Let Your Child Sneeze Anytime Soon , They'll Probably Be Accused Of Biological Warfare And Labelled A Terrorist For As Long As Computers Can Remember. I Fully Endorse And Recommend That Any True Action That Occurs That Is Indeed Harmful In Real Terms Be Resolved On A Case By Case Basis, Using Judicial System And A Jury Trial. If Regular People Are On Jury They Will Make Far Better Decisions Than Any Government Official. The Publicity That Accompanies The Trial Will Let Future Actions Be Governed By Knowledge Of The Regular Social Norms , Stated By A Represenative Jury. Keep The Progressive Libs Off Of Jury Since They Will Have Everyone In A Prison Cell For Any Minor Offence. Freedom Is What We Need , To Quote President Reagan " Government Is Not The Answer ; Government Is Part Of The Problem ! "
    William R Nicholson
    • Which regulations?

      Blanket details are nice and cozy to get wrapped up in, but if the fabric used in making the blanket is made of ingredients you're not aware of, you might not want to wrap yourself up in it...

      Yeah, the regulation that makes kiddies with lemonade stands hurts the economy... but you do realize most deregulation has only hurt this economy?

      I'll start citing details... but after you...

      Oh, Reagan also said "if it stops moving, subsidize it" - maybe you can explain all the taxpayer-funded subsidy that has gone to propping up and bailing out companies that offshore jobs, amongst other issues... of course, Reagan also said "I don't remember" enough times that he should have been impeached... but that's another story...

      Lastly, do you believe that one should use their freedom to rob others of theirs? ;)
  • By, of, and for the people. The headline's accusation is a tad interesting

    Of course, with lobbyist influence, we have the best government money can buy...

    So, regardless of those two factors, all this article does is make the government a scapegoat.

    It depends on the government...

    I know, let's make a one-world government and then we don't need to worry about what happens in Australia.