More misuse of Harmful Digital Publications Act?

The Harmful Digital Publications Act was promoted as a way to address online bullying, especially of young people, but here is another claim that it has been used to try to suppress critical information. ‘Mason Bee’:

There is a flaw in New Zealands Harmful Digital Communications Act that is being exploited to take down content on the Internet. Because most allegations have to go through the Approved Agency (NetSafe) before going to the courts anyone can start a trivial, frivolous, or vexatious case with them without having to prove that they had suffered the level of serious emotional harm that is required by the law.

I don’t know whether the HDCA is effective at addressing online bullying and abuse, but it has been misused be vexatious online bullies since 2015. A year before the HDCA came into force some of the worst online abusers in New Zealand duped a judge in trying to prosecute me and shut this site down because I kept exposing there attacks here. See:

I was notified again recently be Netsafe of a complaint from the same person, Marc Spring, who didn’t like being exposed here or in the Whale Oil book, along with co-online bully Cameron Slater.  Once again Spring appears to have not followed procedures defined in the act properly.

Mason Bee:

To make matters worse, NetSafe doesn’t appear to be keeping any records of the numbers of these cases. When asked how many public figures had sought to use the process they refused the OAI request on the grounds that they would have to search over 7000 records. With almost 3000 of those records coming from 2018 this is a hidden problem that is only going to get worse.

Netsafe have a job to do, and have to try to deal with both legitimate and frivolous or vexatious complaints.  I found them ok to deal with, but they didn’t provide me with any details about the complaint. They can only liaise and moderate, and if that doesn’t resolve issues it can become a police or court matter if there is merit in the complaint (although as I have found out, cases without merit resulted in lengthy and costly court proceedings).

Mason Bee:

How do I know this? Because I was targetted by a minor politician who decided to use the NetSafe process and demand that I change a post and cease writing about her in the future.

That post is titled Suzie Dawson and the Whistle-blower

This is the story of how I have ended up in the unenviable position of whistle-blowing on Suzie Dawson and Internet Party New Zealand.

This is the story of how I have ended up in the unenviable position of whistle-blowing on Suzie Dawson and Internet Party New Zealand.

It all came to a head for in March of 2019 when I wrote a post called Who is Suzie Dawson: Exile or Fraud? In it I questioned her claims, her history, warned people about her conduct, asked more questions and published a, then unanswered, complaint to the Secretary of the Internet Party saying I believed she had;

When the Internet Party Secretary replied, almost a month after the initial complaint, he refused to escalate the complaint and dismissed it as personal attack, not in the interests of the Party and because I had already published it online. Nothing was heard from Suzie during this time and she continued to ask for donations using the name and imagery of the Internet Party.

Then, in May, I received an email.

The same standard email I received from Netsafe saying they wanted to chat about a complaint that had been made.

At first I was absolutely sure it could not be Suzie Dawson. There was no way that a public figure who purports to fight for whistleblowers and journalist’s could be stupid enough to try and invoke a law made to protect teenagers from online bullying in order to silence criticism against her.

It turned out I was wrong. Suzie Dawson, in an act of lawfare, used New Zealands Harmful Digital Communications Act (2015) to try and get me to remove statements from my website and to stop me writing about her in the future. She used a cyberbullying law to try and remove my right to Freedom of Expression.

I doubt there is a more perfect example of how she really feels about whistle-blowers or journalists.

If I had not been in a position where I had access to legal advice it is likely I would have been forced to alter or withdraw my posts, possibly even take down my website, in fear of litigation.

I’m not going to make any judgment on this specific issue, I’m merely giving it more of an airing because both online abuse and misuse of the HDCA and the courts as a weapon by online bullies, or of attempts to suppress information by people involved in politics is of  public interest.

If Suzie Dawson wants to put her side of the story forward in response here in a reasonable manner I offer her a right of reply.

I presume that legitimate complaints of online bullying are being dealt with by Netsafe, and some of them surface as prosecutions in the courts.

But I think that more information about misuse and abuse of the HDCA is needed. This is an important public online issue.

I think that it is important that Netsafe deal with valid complaints of online bullying, but also that people are aware their rights when subject to frivolous or vexatious complaints. The more extreme examples will be obvious, but there is likely to be a more murky middle.