Keyboard warriors, trolls and people just being downright cruel. It's all on social media these days. But how are their actions influencing the make-up of our future councils and boards? There are fears some potential candidates won't stand in local body elections for fear of online criticisms. It comes amid fresh calls for tighter legislation for online commentators to hold those who can't hold their opinions to themselves to criminal account. Journalist Kelly Makiha finds out the views from local politicians and an election expert.
There are fears personal attacks on social media and "online trolls" are putting off some people standing in local body elections prompting calls for fresh legislation to put a stop to anonymous and ruthless offenders.
But those affected by the criticism say social media is a big part of politics and you have to be thick-skinned and have a clear social media plan.
In Britain there were plans to crack down on extreme abuse levelled at politicians with British media reporting last year on plans to legislate against threatening or abusive behaviour either in person or online towards candidates or campaigners working for them.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said she had raised the issue at government level in the past and she knew of people who were afraid to stand in elections for fear of being criticised in social media forums.
"When the trolls start circling, along with that comes mis-information and half truths."
Chadwick, who said she had been the subject of some "ghastly" online criticism, said potential candidates had asked her whether they needed to be on social media.
"It [online criticism] has definitely put some people off standing and that is a great shame.
"They say to me 'I don't have to go online or have my own Facebook page do I?' and I tell them 'yes you do'."
Chadwick said it was about "owning your own space" and ensuring you had control of your own posts, not shooting from the hip, having a plan of what to post and getting advice when needed.
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"I don't mind answering someone who asks 'what the heck is that roundabout being built there for?' because I like to debate the issues but personal attacks I don't respond to ... I've learnt from 20 years in politics not to fire off a response, think about it for a day."
While she said the critical nature of social media was a "big disincentive" to some potential candidates, it was an important tool in politics nowadays.
Dr Reynold Macpherson, who is standing for mayor and the council in this year's elections, called for fresh legislation to clamp down on anonymous users on social media.
"There are a few Facebook sites playing dirty politics, mostly enabled by anonymity, that will, in my opinion, need fresh legislation."
He said his organisation, the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers, had a Facebook page that had been "sledged" by an anonymous page for more than two years.
"Current law also allows anonymous trolls to abuse political opponents under the guise of parody and satire. The police regard anonymous Facebook sites as fake sites and will ask the administrators and Facebook to take them down.
"However, as a complainant, I could not honestly claim to be suffering from 'extreme emotional stress' as required for prosecution under the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015. Momentary disgust at adolescent tactics perhaps, but not stress."
He said the current law also allowed the right to free expression online to "violate" other human rights.
"On the other hand, I love the reach of Facebook posts, the modern equivalent of the agora and door-knocking combined, and how comments can help test beliefs."
He said once the problem of anonymity was solved and commentators could be held responsible for what they wrote, he believed all elected politicians should be obliged to run a Facebook page to hear feedback.
Rotorua district councillor Karen Hunt, who is not standing again this year, said she had learned not to take criticism too seriously, now referring to "sexist comments" relating to "vanity projects" as her "fan mail".
"At least someone knows what projects are helping to beautify our city. The sexist use of terms such as a 'vanity project' has only been used by men since we have had a woman mayor and women leading portfolios."
She said in her opinion, most of the "trolls" were older people, particularly older men, and she wondered what their wives, daughters and granddaughters thought when they read comments written on social media telling women "to get back into the kitchen".
She said social media had given bullies a wider audience.
"When someone chooses to stand for election the support of one's family is paramount, it's hard to do the job without their support. It takes courage knowing that there is a group out there who take delight in being nasty."
She said it also hurt family members when they saw sexist comment written about them.
"If we want thoughtful, open, visionary people to stand for election we need to do all we can to nurture our decision makers not hang them out to dry and make them a target for dissent, or support in any way those people or groups who seek to personally attack our budding and seasoned leaders. That is not democracy, however you dress it up, it is simply abuse."
Electionz.com chief returning officer Warwick Lampp said politicians had always been criticised and it was just the nature of the work.
Lampp said anyone who couldn't handle the criticism was perhaps not cut out to be a politician.
"Perhaps they need to harden up a bit ... you are standing in a political environment and that's what happens in politics and it has done for the past 100 years. Social media hasn't changed the playing field, it's just given people a different mechanism to have a crack at people."
Nominations opened on Friday last week for this year's local body elections. Voting papers will start arriving at households from September 20 for the October 12 elections.