Rotorua Daily Post: More protection against cyber-bullying for our children

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Better internet access comes with responsibility. Our understanding of harm has changed as communication grows easier and information is more readily available at the tap of a finger. Where bullies once haunted playgrounds and bad words and racy images were relegated to magazines on the top shelf of a newsstand, today, the world has changed. We need think deeply about what this means for our children.

Currently the Government's investment in rolling out ultra-fast broadband around New Zealand and optic fibre cables to Rotorua homes has topped $2 billion.

Better connectivity helps to build a stronger economy. It improves educational outcomes and reduces compliance costs on businesses. It leads to more, better paying jobs for local people. Through the Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) network and Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI), more people in Rotorua and surrounding areas will experience the benefits of faster and more efficient internet.

Over the past four years this investment has led to our streets being dug up and fibre-optic cable laid all over our city. New cell towers have been installed in rural areas and existing infrastructure has been upgraded. School wiring has been upgraded to ensure that our youngest benefit the most from the many advantages of modern Internet based learning. All of this in the name of providing better, and more efficient, access to the internet for local people.

Bullying is no longer just limited to physical acts of violence or verbal abuse. With the advent of cell phones, text and instant messaging, and the popularity of Facebook and other social media, bullying now has a very different definition. It has reached the cyber-age. Recent statistics show that one in five New Zealanders aged between 13-30 years has been a victim of cyber-bullying at some stage in their lives.

To address what is increasingly becoming a complex problem, the Government recently passed legislation to focus on harmful digital communications. The new measures update previously outdated laws and mean that senders of harmful emails, texts and social media posts can be better held to account. It also means that it will be easier to remove harmful posts and communications from the internet.

The new law simplifies the task of holding bullies to account when a complaint is made. The measures are strict and take a big step towards better protecting our children online. They include creating a new approved agency to resolve complaints quickly and efficiently for victims, giving the District Court powers to issue notices to take posts down and impose penalties, and makes it an offence to send messages or post material online that deliberately causes serious emotional distress.

The consequences of cyber-bullying and other online forms of harassment are simply too serious to ignore. It's important that you know enough of your children's online presence to help keep them safe. Whilst the line between checking and prying can often be blurred, the consequences of Internet-related harm means that at the very least, it's important to have a conversation with your children and family members about what's right and wrong on the Internet.