The laws of internet trolling

In Patt Morrison’s article, she mentions that Australia has an anti-trolling law. This interested me, because the issue seemed so novel, niche, and indescribable that the idea of a federal law against it seemed unlikely. It turns out that New Zealand passed a similar law as well.

The new law was designed to stop trolls from preying on New Zealanders

The NZ law was instated in 2015, and according to an article by Flynn Murphy, it bans “harmful digital communications.” The initial purpose was to stop cyberbullying, and under it “trolls” can be punished by up to two years in prison. This makes it seem much more serious than the term “trolling” would suggest. On one hand, the gravity is an important change. Whitney Phillips says in her article that “the implication that trolling is playful, disruptive for disruption’s sake, or fundamentally trivial (an attitude reflected in various year-end compilations of the “best trolls” of 2015) minimizes the experiences of those caught in the crosshairs of online harassers,” so the law could potentially validate the experiences of trolling victims. This article says that within a year of the law’s passing, 89 criminal charges were filed and 7 people had been jailed under the law.

Many people found problems with the law’s broad definition of harm. It was so broad, in fact, that things that would be legal to publish in print were not illegal online, which could limit free speech. According to Murphy, “the law effectively bans online communications judged “indecent”, “false” or “used to harass an individual”, the Post asked if reports on political expense scandals, or cartoons that mock religious figures, may also be banned under the legislation.” Many seemed to express a desire for journalists to be exempt from the law.

I think that these issues go back to an issue that Dr. Sample brought up last Friday, that you should always punch up, not down. If a journalist writes something harmful about a famous politician, it is not the same as someone “trolling” someone younger or of a more vulnerable class than them.


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