Lawmakers in New Zealand have officially made it illegal to harass others and engage in hate speech through digital means. Otherwise known as cyberbullying, offenders who run afoul of the law face stiff penalties -- up to two years imprisonment or a fine up to $50,000 for an individual, or up to $200,000 for a "body corporate," which is a legal entity like a business, government agency, and so forth.
It's called the Harmful Digital Communications Bill and it's intended to "deter, prevent, and mitigate harm caused by individuals by digital communications, and provide victims of harmful digital communications with a quick and efficient means of redress." The bill covers any form of electronic communication, including text messaging, writing, photographs, pictures, recordings, or any other material that is communicated electronically.
As for specific content, it's now illegal in New Zealand to make racist, sexist, and religiously intolerant comments to a specific person through digital media. It's also illegal to make disparaging comments about someone's disabilities or sexual orientation.
Not everyone was onboard with the legislation. Opponents claimed it undermines free speech and take issue with the fact that it would criminalize children over 14 years old. Some questioned the bill's practicality and why digital communications should have different rules than non-digital for comments and defamation.
Internet chief executive Jordan Carter countered complaints by pointing out that "no legislation is perfect, and this is no exception." He also admitted that there's "the risk of unintended consequences" and implored parliament to keep a close eye on the bill's implementation so that there are "appropriate responses to online harm without damaging free expression."