‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me’. So says the old adage. 

But in a digital world, words can and do hurt - along with photos and videos. Once posted online, damaging words and images are there for everyone to see and can have lasting and severe effects on the victim.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 aims to reduce harm to individuals caused by digital communication and to provide a quick and efficient means of redress.

Under the Act, which applies to any form of public or private electronic communication, including text messages, online posts, photographs and video recordings, a person can be imprisoned for up to two years or fined up to $50,000 for causing serious emotional distress via digital communication.

If convicted, sentencing will depend on:

  1. Whether the defendant intended to cause harm to the victim;
  2. If the content was published;
  3. How far it has been disseminated; and
  4. If it is likely to cause harm to the victim.

By the end of 2016, over 89 charges had been filed under the Act and seven people jailed.

The most common complaints involved sexual content, including ‘revenge pornography’ being put online.

While it is still young, the Act has real potential to hold people who engage in cyberbullying and digital harassment accountable for the harm they inflict.