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The Make Believe Issue

New Zealand Made Trolling Illegal Last Month

Revenge pornographers and 4chan racists better watch out.

by Zach Sokol
07 August 2015, 12:00am

Illustration von Ole Tillmann

This article appears in the August Issue of VICE Magazine

Last month, New Zealand's Parliament passed a bill that will make citizens think twice before making a dead-baby joke or posting a nude pic of an ex on the internet. Named the Harmful Digital Communications Act, the law states that anyone who causes "harm by posting digital communication," a.k.a. trolling, is liable to conviction and could face up to two years in prison and be subject to $50,000 NZD ($32,570 USD) in fines.

But what exactly qualifies as "harm" instigated via laptops, 1's, and 0's? According to the bill, anyone who uses online platforms and social media to incite "serious emotional distress"—such as using damaging, threatening, or offensive language, as well as sharing private photos or information without the subject's permission—is committing a crime. Under an amendment to New Zealand's Crimes Act, the country also added the stipulation that an internet user who tells another person to kill himself could face up to three years in jail.

Not everyone thinks the bill is altruistic, though. Gareth Hughes, an MP of New Zealand's Green Party of Aotearoa, said the law was "irresponsibly broad" and could damage both journalism and free-speech rights.

Regardless, the law is in effect, so revenge pornographers and 4chan racists better watch out.