A silly act: it begins

Written By: - Date published: 2:36 pm, August 20th, 2015 - 5 comments
Categories: blogs, interweb, Media, nz first, Parliament - Tags: , ,

Yesterday No Right Turn had this blog post, which I will quote in full.


When Parliament passed the Harmful Digital Communications Act, people (including me) warned that it would be abused to stifle political speech. And it has, with NZ First MP Tracey Martin accusing a political blogger (who supported a rival NZ First MP) of violating the Act:

NZ First MP Tracey Martin has claimed Curwen Rolinson is in breach of the Harmful Digital Communications Act, passed in July. In a blog post, Rolinson, former leader of the NZ First youth wing, accused Martin of undermining party MP Andrew Williams.

Speaking at the University of Otago last week, Martin suggested that Rolinson was in breach of the law as a result of a blog post written on 6 July, four days after the Act was officially made into law.

“I’ve been working on the Harmful Digital Communications bill and what Curwen [Rolinson] did, what Whaleoil [blogger Cameron Slater] does, that’s harmful digital communications,” said Martin.

The “breach”? Rolinson accused Martin of spreading rumours about NZ First MP Andrew Williams, who was competing with her for the position of deputy leader. In other words, a typical internal party spat. If this is what Martin thinks the law covers, then we should all be very afraid.

[Hat-tip: Offsetting Behaviour]

I’d agree. While the bill was promoted as dealing with cyber-bullying problems targeting children and teenagers, the law wasn’t written that way. It was written to cover everyone. In my view will cause a rash of threats by purported adults against other adults.

The Act itself is pretty vague and largely unworkable without a considerable amount of reworking about practice by the courts and “Approved Agencies”. Moreover it is actually way below the standards already used by most sites.

It is likely to be damn slow. Currently if people have a problem with something on this site, the fastest way to deal with it is to write a comment or send an email to the email addresses in the contact page or the more enterprising have figured out a more direct contact via the DNS records. We will have a response usually within hours. About 90% of the time, by the time someone sends something to us, we have already moderated it anyway.

But we’re not going to waste time doing the procedures outlined in the Act of hanging around for days contacting an author of a comment to seek their approval to remove it. If we think it is unlawful or even in just poor taste or violates our policies, then the content and possibly the comment will be gone immediately.

In my experience generally people don’t complain about things that aren’t invalid or trivial. They explain quite clearly what the problem is and why it is a issue. They are sometimes mistaken about what is unlawful or against our policies, and sometimes they don’t provide enough information about the location of the offending item.

The few that do mount vexatious, trivial, or quite unclear complaints (usually as laden with as much stupid legal flimflam as a lauda finem post), will usually not like the educational and very detailed responses that I give.

The biggest issue with the bill is going to be the “Approved Agencies” and in particular it is going to be this section 7(2) of the Act.

Before recommending the making of an Order in Council under subsection (1), the Minister must be satisfied that the appointee has the appropriate knowledge, skills, and experience to carry out some or all of the functions of the Approved Agency under this Act.

That is because I don’t think that anyone a Minister or their staff or anyone that they could hire will have the skills required to have any respect from the people who run online sites, judges and ‘victims’. The problem is that I suspect that putting a unskilled, stupid or ignorant intermediary between the ‘victim’ and the system operators will simply decrease the signal to noise ratios. All they will do is to get in the way.

After watching many people, including our police forces, flounder through their ineffectual screw ups with online media for the last 3 decades, I have come to conclusion that it is more of an art form rather than anything else. It has little to do with the available legislation, it has to do with a simple lack of skills.

They’d need the skills of running a social media system, those of a sysop/programmer, and legal skills sufficient to satisfy a judge. They should also be able to perform a complete evaluation in less than half an hour. In my case would require that I respect them enough to have their number in my phone so I will pick up on them even while I am writing code.

It is a three way skill set to understand the complexities of operating and to figuring out where the balance points between a morass of imperatives of online media should be. To be effective, they need to have the respect of the various operators to the point where they ideally they merely need to ask, laying out their reasons, and what they ask is so patently valid that it gets done immediately. Or it is something that needs to be taken to the court for a ruling.

These kinds of people are not common, and they are already gainfully employed on doing things that are more interesting.

I don’t expect we will get them. What I expect is that we will get some irritating unskilled cheap and rather stupid monkeys. There will be no competent person able to build a fast  and consistent framework for operators of sites to work with.

Moreover, my bet is that we will get arse-suckers will defer to the types of adults who most clearly need to be watched by journalists and on-line media – like Tracy Martin or Mike Hosking. I rather suspect that those approved will often have the kinds of skill levels that we see in most of our politicians for much the same reason. Anyone technically competent doesn’t want to be a politician, or someone that they would approve of.

In short, I’d expect to wind up dealing with the kind of “approved” people and organisations who, after I have a few contacts with, I will simply exclude any contact with or get nuisance restraining orders against. Or they will find that they can’t get in touch with me because they don’t retain information about the previous ways that they or their predecessors contacted me last time.

As part of my normal work, I get paid to train people. But I’m not that interested in training, for free, a ever-rotating roster of  the under skilled government approved. Just because parliament wrote a poorly thought through law doesn’t mean that I’m interested in helping them fix their mistakes. I doubt that many operators of social media systems will be.

I’d prefer to either have people contact me directly without the dubious filter of a underskilled “approved agency”, or I’d prefer that the “approved agency” provides me with the details that we can take it straight to the district court to get a ruling on – at their expense.

That kind of person already exists for adults. It is commonly known as a lawyer (apart from the no expense bit).

5 comments on “A silly act: it begins”

  1. hoom 1

    Surely the ‘its Labours fault’ on sheepgate by the PM is in breach of that act.

  2. Nick K 2

    It also brings back a form of criminal libel, something the Nats protested loudly against when Margaret Wilson mooted it in ~ 1999. Idjits.

    • lprent 2.1

      Yes, but with this weird approved body structure in the middle which I think is set up as a intimidation organisation.

      There appear to be no reasonable sanctions against it. If they over step their bonds, then you can’t drag then in a for a civil case for defamation or damages from them if they were wrong.

      I suspect that the best that could be done is to do a private prosecution for what? Nuisance?.

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