Petition calls for Government to ban social media in New Zealand

A Wellington man has submitted an official petition calling on the Government to ban social media in New Zealand. 

The petition, submitted by 46-year-old Benjamin Seeley, asks the House of Representatives to ban Facebook and other social media in the country. 

"I believe that there are too many instances of cyberbullying and threats of violence on Facebook and other social media," the petition says. "Nobody should put up with bullying by a complete stranger."

Published on 14 February, the petition has only received three signatures so far, but it's a legitimate petition that will be considered by our politicians. 

A petition gets its name from the fact you're directly petitioning the House of Representatives. It's available to absolutely anyone of any age - you don't even have to be from New Zealand. 

A properly submitted petition uses a formal legal process which, if successful, can influence the law. The most famous example was in 1893 when a petition led to New Zealand being the first country in the world to give women the vote. 

Mr Seeley said he submitted the petition because he's seen many cases of cyberbullying and people dying of suicide as a result, telling Newshub: "I'm of the generation where we didn't have social media or the internet growing up, and we were much happier".

He said he'd "definitely like to see Facebook banned". 

ACT leader David Seymour responded to a post about the petition on Twitter, saying he would be "prepared to accept any petition that is not grossly offensive because I believe people have a right to petition Parliament". 

He joked: "I just hope they are not using social media to promote it."

Is social media that bad? 

Despite light-hearted response to the petition, it highlights a serious issue facing many people all over the country today. Cyberbullying is costing the country an estimated $444 million a year, according to Netsafe. 

Chief executive Martin Cocker told Newshub last year that one in 10 New Zealand adults say they have been harmed by digital communications, essentially cyberbullying - but that it's worse for youth. 

Clinical psychologist Dr Dougal Sutherland said there is truth to Mr Seeley's concerns, telling Newshub bullying can be a factor in some people becoming mentally unwell and, in the worst case scenario, dying by suicide. 

"Maybe there's an argument there that we should be helping kids become more internet-savvy and learning the benefits and the difficulties of it," he said, adding the problem with social media is that people don't switch off from it. 

Last year New Zealand had the highest rate of suicide since records began, with 668 people taking their own life in the 2017/2018 year. The rate increased for the fourth year in a row. 

However, Dr Sutherland said banning social media is not realistic: "It's simply a tool and we get to choose how to use it."

New Zealanders have protections against cyberbullying under the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015. It aims to "deter, prevent and lessen harmful digital communications". This includes cyberbullying, harassment and revenge porn posted online.

Across the world, other petitions have narrowed in on Facebook, with one asking the social media giant to issue corrections to fake news. 

The petition, posted to petition website Avaaz, says disinformation has the "power to turn protests violent, destroy trust in our democracies and make us hate, even kill each other". 

It calls on Facebook, Twitter and all technology platforms, to work with independent fact checkers to show "effective corrections to each and every person who sees verifiably false or misleading content" on their platforms. 

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