A government ministry says it will consider comments made by a coroner for future work following the death of a teen who took her own life.

Wellington teenager Alatauai Sasa, 15, took her own life on June 19, 2013, after having to help in the prosecution of her father for a domestic violence incident.

At the time she was being cyberbullied with comments including "go kill urself hahahaha" and "You're depressed... if you're depressed easiest thing is to escape this world. DO IT! Xxx" posted on anonymous question sites ASKfm and Qooh.me.

Coroner Peter Ryan said in his findings, released this week, that Child, Youth and Family could have better supported Alatauai, who was required to be a police witness for the prosecution of her father.

Advertisement

He found Sasa deliberately killed herself after a combination of online bullying and stresses at home drove her into a suicidal state.

Wellington teenager Alatauai Sasa took her own life in 2013 after being cyber bullied on ASKfm and Qooh.me. Photo / 123RF
Wellington teenager Alatauai Sasa took her own life in 2013 after being cyber bullied on ASKfm and Qooh.me. Photo / 123RF

CYF was replaced by the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki earlier this year.

Ministry spokesman Grant Bennett said they would consider the coroner's comments for future work. A training session to develop social workers' ability to have conversations about suicide was delivered across Oranga Tamariki sites recently.

Social workers are not able to access many social media spaces where cyberbullying occurs, such as private group chats. But they do question a child's ability to access the internet and can offer advice on cyberbullying and staying safe online, Bennett said.

"They are asked to discuss the need for safety filters, supervision, and education about the risks of social media."

The brutal comments mocking Sasa and encouraging her death remain online four years later.

Netsafe's director of technology and partnerships, Sean Lyons said the fact that the comments were still online meant the posters could potentially be prosecuted for incitement to suicide.

ASKfm spokeswoman Annie Mullins refused to answer any questions pertaining to Sasa due to data protection laws. But since 2013 ASKfm had implemented significant safeguards.

They appointed a safety board in 2015 made up of world-leading child safety experts, established 24/7 monitoring, developed a safety centre and upped their moderating which included identifying predators and involves automatic filtering of all Questions and Answers exchanged by users.

"ASKfm has made a huge investment and changes in its product, policy, infrastructure and leadership over the past four years [since getting] new company owners.

"Which has positioned ASKfm as a leader in online safety for young people, and especially with technical innovation in filtering images and text to identify egregious content."

A Qooh.me spokesperson said they were not alerted to the intense and negative messages on Alatauai's page. They said Qooh.me warns the author if they send abusive messages and in "extreme cases" the user's account is deleted. They also sometimes advise the receiver of the messages to disable the anonymous feature on their account.

It was not clear how Qooh.me moderate or monitor messages.

Lyons urged parents or young people dealing with online bullying to contact Netsafe for help and advice.

"The Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 was introduced in New Zealand to prevent and reduce the impact of online bullying and other forms of abuse and intimidation.

"We can use mediation, negotiation and persuasion to reach a resolution between parties, or request the removal of content by online content hosts."

The act covers online bullying, harassment, revenge porn and other forms of abuse and intimidation.

A digital communication may be deemed harmful if it:
Is directed at an individual; and
makes that person seriously emotionally distressed; and
it has or could seriously breach of one or more of the 10 communication principles in the act.

The 10 communication principles
The 10 principles say that a digital communication should not:
• Disclose sensitive personal facts about a person;
• Be threatening, intimidating, or menacing;
• Be grossly offensive;
• Be indecent or obscene;
• Be used to harass a person;
• Make a false allegation;
• Breach confidences;
• Incite or encourage anyone to send a deliberately harmful message;
• Incite or encourage a person to commit suicide; and
• Denigrate a person's colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.

Where to get help

If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:

DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.