In what could be a landmark move for the world of internet, the New Zealand Parliament passed a bill outlawing digital communications, under which internet trolling can be punished up to 3 years of jail time. The new law will require companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter to ask users to remove offensive posts within 24 hours, after which the companies will be responsible for removing the posts themselves.
In New Zealand, anyone who has been convicted of sending digital communications that cause “serious emotional distress” can face a fine of up to NZ$50,000 (US$33,600) or two years in jail. Furthermore, under an amendment to New Zealand’s Crime Acts, inciting or encouraging another person to commit suicide is punishable with up to three years of prison.
While this move is a small step towards the worldwide attempt to curb trolling and malicious activity on the internet, it is also important for lawmakers to be specific in stating what exactly constitutes ‘trolling’. As per an article published soon after the law was passed (http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/comment/editorials/69957563/editorial-harmful-digital-communications-bill-goes-too-far), it is a common consensus that the law itself is too broad – it captures any digital communication that is judged “indecent”, “false” or “used to harass an individual”. The article says that this particular law should also provide some exemptions such as humour, and honest opinions based on facts.
We, at CSR, have been actively working towards a safer online atmosphere through our #SocialSurfing campaign and workshops, and are of the view that it is the need of the hour to make the online experience of individuals a safe and enjoyable one. We feel that while this law is absolutely needed worldwide, it is necessary for it to be drafted in a manner to distinguish clearly between free speech and trolling.
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