New Zealand's government has decided to take a strong stance against online trolls and bullies, passing the Harmful Digital Communications Bill that gives authorities the right to fine or even imprison people who have posted harmful content online.

The bill labels a wide range of language as harmful, including anything that's "threatening, intimidating, or menacing", "indecent or obscene", or intolerant of a person's race, religion, gender, sexuality, or disability. The bill also criminalizes online communications that are seen as harassment or encouraging another to commit suicide.

Once an online message is deemed by an "Approved Agency" to be harmful, the Agency will work with online services including Google, Twitter and Facebook to remove the offending content, either by asking the author to remove it or by getting the company to remove the material themselves.

The bill includes a range of punishments for posting harmful material online. Individuals may be fined up to NZ$50,000 (US$33,000) for breaching the law, while companies face fines of up to NZ$200,000 (US$134,000). In some circumstances offenders will be jailed up to two years, or up to three years if the offender has encouraged suicide.

Although there will be a very high threshold for criminal prosecutions, according to Justice Minister Amy Adams, the bill has been labeled as controversial by many. Opponents to the law have warned that the way the bill classifies digital communications as harmful is quite vague, and could be used to limit free speech.

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