Simon Plumb is a journalist for the Herald on Sunday

Kiwis make 300 calls to cyberbully helpline in first five days

Online watchdog NetSafe has had 300 calls about cyberbullying in the first week of setting up a new hotline. PHOTO/FILE
Online watchdog NetSafe has had 300 calls about cyberbullying in the first week of setting up a new hotline. PHOTO/FILE

A new hotline to report cyber hate and online "trolls" has seen 300 Kiwis make complaints in the first five days of the service going live.

Revenge porn, defamation and harassment have all been reported to New Zealand's online watchdog NetSafe since the organisation launched its new anti-cyberbully service on Monday.

The move is a push to enforce the Harmful Digital Communications Act, passed by lawmakers last year to make cyberbullying a criminal offence. That includes any abusive text message, writing, photograph, picture, recording, or other material communicated electronically.

NetSafe executive director Martin Cocker is pleased victims of online abuse are stepping forward, with an average of 50 calls a day being made to his watchdog.

"About 40 per cent of our work appears to be related to what the law defines as Harmful Digital Communications."

Cocker says most of the complaints fall into three areas - sexual content, including non-consensual pornography or "revenge porn", harassment and defamation - and examples of all three have been reported since Monday.

Anti-cyberbullying legislation means police can be engaged where necessary and court action can also be triggered. Cocker says more than 80 people have been charged under the act but no cases were referred to police in the first week of the hotline.

"What's reassuring is watching the team work through complaints with people and start to put resolutions in place. We're only into the first few days but already have a number of cases now under way.

"We have had a few of them concluded where we've been able to assist the people have harmful content removed, or the person who produced it has said they will voluntarily remove it - recognising it was harmful. That's a good outcome."

Boosted to 24 staff, Cocker says half of those are manning NetSafe's phones as part of the $3 million-a-year service, funded by the Justice Ministry.

A string of high-profile Kiwis have been caught in social media abuse recently, including teenage world golf number one Lydia Ko - who temporarily closed her Twitter account, Warriors league stars Shaun Johnson and Manu Vatuvei - who was reduced to tears in a radio interview on the subject - and international netballer Cathrine Tuivaiti.

Vatuvei was forced to take a week's medical leave when pushed to "breaking point" after making an emotional social media post and then reacting angrily to criticism from online trolls. He was left heartbroken when his children were subjected to schoolyard bullying.

CYBERBULLYING: HELP AND ADVICE
• Call NetSafe on 0508 638 723 or visit netsafe.org.nz.
• Tell people you trust. They will want to help you stop the bullying quickly and safely.
• Do not reply to the people bullying you.
• Save all bullying messages and images which can be used as evidence later.
• Block accounts sending bullying messages.
• Contact police if the abuser threatens harm.

- Herald on Sunday

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