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New Zealand makes cyberbullying a crime

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New Zealand has passed a law that criminalizes one of the least desirable facets of the internet: cyberbullying. The legislation effectively prohibits sending messages to people that are racist, sexist, critical of their religion, sexuality or disability. The rest for determining harm will be if these communications were designed to cause "serious emotional distress," and if a person is found guilty, could face up to two years in jail. In addition, the bill creates a separate crime of incitement to suicide, which will see a person jailed for up to three years if they are found to be encouraging such an act.

The government will now set up a new digital agency that will have the job of dealing with complaints that both Twitter and Facebook have, so far, failed to cope with. These publishers will be able to sign safe harbor deals with this new agency, as long as they promise to delete allegedly offending messages within 48 hours of discovery.

Of course, part of this law simply codifies rules that are enshrined elsewhere concerning hate speech and abuse. There are, however, criticisms that the open-ended wording of the bill could cause children to be criminalized, as well as undermining free speech.

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