Minister says online abuse amounts to cyber bullying

The abuse of online platforms – including social media - to attack public figures and innocent members of the public amount to cyber bullying. They are punishable under the Crimes Act.

That’s the opinion of the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupai, when his thoughts were sought on growing concerns by the Government about online abuse. 

The Minister highlighted section 219 of the Crimes Act 2013 as one of the tools the Government could use to fight the rising number of cyber-attacks in the form of cyber bullying, harassment and stalking.

Asked about the conduct of people who use fake names to attack public figures, the Minister said such conduct amounts to “cyber stalking” and “harassment” under the Crimes Act.

“These personal attacks especially in terms of the blogs and especially in terms of the fabrication of the information – it’s all associated with what we are talking about when we discuss cyber bullying,” he said. 

“It’s in the Crimes Act already.”

The impact of cyber bullying on the mental wellbeing and health of members of the public is something not to be ignored, the Minister warned.

“What we are seeing now is that the personal attacks - it hurts people,” he said.

 “Especially when the information is not true and it’s fabricated and there are no facts associated with it. That’s all cyber bullying that’s all cyber stalking, you look around the world, there are people already committing suicide because they can’t bear with the pain of being labeled or being called names, being looked down upon, it’s all part of cyber bullying.”

Asked how the Crimes Act deals with anonymous online bloggers, the Minister said, “The Cyber Crime Acts – it’s a minimum of five years not more than five years, you can go to prison if it is proven." 

“At the moment if your question is about O le Palemia, we are working non-stop with the Ministry of Police, the Attorney General’s office – everyone is working around the clock to protect these things and put measures in place, not only in the Crimes Acts but also as I mentioned earlier in terms of filters here and there. We are trying all sorts of things.”

According to the Minister, their role at the Ministry of I.C.T. is only limited to the technological part of the Crimes Act.

The crime control aspect rests with the Police, unless the Ministry is required to step in for assistance. 

The Minister did not confirm whether the Samoan government has reached out for overseas help in fighting cyber bullying but said that if they needed assistance from outside they would ask.

“I think they (the Police and the Attorney General) are working nonstop with the Transnational Crimes Unit to try and identify the people that are associated with these online crimes and once these people are identified and it’s proven then the next step is to go to Court.”

Asked whether the Crimes Act 2013 was more effective than the Criminal Libel Act - recently reintroduced by the Government - in dealing with people who commit cyber attacks, the Minister replied: “The Cyber security strategy that we worked on last year was only a strategy, it’s not the same as the Crimes Act, to pin somebody down with a crime they have committed, that’s part of the Crimes Act." 

“For us it’s just a strategy to put measures in place to try and control and curb the problem that we are facing. At the moment we are working with Department of Australian Foreign Affairs to put in measures of control to try and work through this in terms of trying to pin someone down on a crime they have committed.”

The Government’s work is widely supported by victims of the abuse online. Dr. Vanya Taulealo, the wife of P.S.C. Chairman, Tuu’u Dr. Ieti Taulealo, who has been the target of some of the online attacks said it is time these people – whoever they are – are brought to justice. 

Her and her son took to the comments section to defend her husband. “My concern is that any false news and lies written about people as if there are wrong and they undermine that individual and what they stand for and do,” she said. 

“Anyone would hate lies to be written about them. It seems you have to grow very thick skin to live in the public eye and the impact on the families can be very traumatic. The vitriol and swearing by the responders is appalling and makes them appear like crazed idiots, willing to believe anything posted by these people.”

The Samoa Victim Support group has not responded to emails or calls from the Samoa Observer about the counseling services they offer to respond to victims of online bullying and harassment.

According to their online policies regarding bullying, Facebook offers tools to help you if you feel that you have been bullied or harassed by online stalkers. 

You can report a picture or a post that does not follow Facebook Community Standards. Your name and other personal information will be kept completely confidential if Facebook personnel reach out to the person responsible.

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