By Kate Harley and Dan Satherley
The Minister of Justice has confirmed a bill proposing to tackle social media exploitation will be introduced to Parliament today .
But its timing – two days after 3 News revealed a group of Auckland teenagers have been bragging online about luring drunk and underage girls into group sex sessions – seems to be a coincidence.
In April this year Justice Minister Judith Collins announced a raft of proposals to hold cyber bullies to account for their bullying and harmful online behaviour.
"Many New Zealanders share my serious concerns about this problem as the reach and impact of bullying has increased considerably in the digital age," says Ms Collins.
"Tormenters are able to harass their targets 24 hours a day, seven days a week, wherever they go, and the trail of abuse lives on in cyberspace, following victims for years.
"These new measures send a clear message to cyber bullies: Time’s up. Your behaviour is not acceptable."
The new proposals include serious complaints being able to be taken to the District Court, which will be able to issue sanctions against offenders.
It will also make it an offence to send messages and post material online that is grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, menacing or knowingly false. These offences will be punishable by up to three months imprisonment or a $2,000 fine.
A new offence of "incitement to commit suicide" will be punishable by up to three years' imprisonment.
"The agency will also be able to investigate and resolve complaints directly, with the most serious complaints being referred by the agency to the District Court which can issue take-down orders and cease-and-desist notices," says Ms Collins.
"Our new anti-cyber bullying proposals protect victims and hold perpetrators to account. No one should ever be subject to this kind of cowardly attack - now with the right support and modern laws in place, victims will no longer have to suffer," Ms Collins says.
The bill would help victims of groups such as the 'Roast Busters', a group of Auckland teenagers who were revealed by a 3 News investigation to have been luring girls into underage group sex and boasting about them online to publicly humiliate their conquests.
At least one of the victims has admitted to feeling suicidal after being named and shamed by the group.
Under the new law, those involved in the group could face jail time for their online behaviour as well as a raft of other charges which police hope they will be able to press once victims come forward to them.
Prime Minister John Key says the timing of the bill's introduction to Parliament is a coincidence, but is glad it's happening now rather than later.
"The aim of the legislation is to say look, we're living in a modern, new world where people gossip or spread information in a different way," he said on Firstline this morning.
"So the old days where people might have sort of whispers where they'll say things to one another, this is in a completely new space now with cyber bullying... it's ubiquitous, it's absolutely everywhere."