From his Instagram feed, it looks as if he leads a lavish lifestyle: jet-setting around the world, chilling at the pool, hanging out with beautiful blondes, posing beside Ferraris.

But Max Key, commerce student, aspiring DJ and 21-year-old son of the Prime Minister, says behind the "smoke and mirrors" of social media is just a normal guy.

"Despite what people say, having come from a scenario where I did get picked on [at school], I know what it's like to not be happy or 'cool'," Key said, speaking to the Herald for this week's cyberbullying series, Stop the Hate.

Max Key says anything he posts on social media attracts hate, but that much of it is politically motivated. Photo / Supplied
Max Key says anything he posts on social media attracts hate, but that much of it is politically motivated. Photo / Supplied

"I'm not what everyone thinks I am, I kind of know what it does feel like, and I know it's not a nice feeling, and that's why I think people should always talk up and they shouldn't feel embarrassed about it."


It began with being "picked on" about his weight at King's College in Auckland, and increased to abuse and insults online, particularly in the past two years.

"I was the shortest kid at my school and a little bit overweight. I got bullied quite a bit at school so I found that pretty hard, growing up," he said.

However, King's offered him lots of support, he said, adding that bullying was not tolerated. "If you were caught bullying, it was suspension."

Key's every post on Instagram is now met with a barrage of abuse and even threats.

"People get angry with everything I do. I could put a photo up with puppies and people would get annoyed."

Some of the comments are "pretty ruthless", he said, but many are politically motivated.

"Part of the reason I don't really care is that a lot of the hate towards me is political. I kind of get that, it's just part of being who I am."

It's more the accumulation of comments that gets him down, and when people attack his family.

"Over time it's hard. There's a point where it's just too much, and I've had days when it's just gotten on top of me," he said.

"It's not an individual comment. It's just knowing that everything you do gets scrutinised. There are days where it's like, 'this sucks', you can't ever make people happy. But so long as you just keep motivated, and that's kind of what they've told me."

"They" are his parents, whom he credits with helping him stay positive.

"I'm lucky where my home situation is really good, I can talk to my mum about anything, and my dad's pretty good as well," he said.

He added: "I think it's important to tell someone, I don't think you should ever bottle it up.

"And I think it's important, if you're not the one getting bullied or the one bullying, to step in. There's nothing wrong or not cool about telling someone not to be a dick, or telling them to pull their head in."

People can easily see a public figure as "almost like a movie character", Key said. "You're not real, you're kind of just like a name or a photo, but actually that's a human being. So I think it's good if people can see that everyone has feelings."

He is in talks with Youthline to work with the agency on bullying, a topic he said he was "passionate" about.

"I think as a country we can definitely sort out preventative ways or ways of dealing with it better."

The Herald has reached out to King's for comment.

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youth services: (06) 3555 906 (Palmerston North and Levin)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.