Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has faced cyberbullying.

This year, a social media user wrote on her Facebook page that a "bit of sexual violence never hurt anyone", responding to her post about controversial branding on Wicked Campers.

Read Ms Bennett's column on how she deals with cyberbullying as part of the Herald campaign Stop the Hate.

I get that being a politician opens me up to close and public scrutiny. People use a range of ways, including social media, to let me know their opinions. I not only welcome it but try to encourage their opinions, good and bad. It is one of the great things about New Zealand's democracy that people can contact their politicians.

While Facebook and Twitter are a fantastic way to communicate directly and quickly with the public, social media has proved to be a mixed blessing.

I enjoy seeing the reaction and debate my posts can create. Social media has become the digital equivalent of the kitchen table or local pub, where people can sit and discuss politics.

The downside of this open forum, and its ability to hide identities, is that it opens the doors to people who use it to abuse and threaten.


I can take on negative criticism about my performance as a minister, but I don't get how cruel comments about my weight, general looks, the colour of my skin (yes, really) have to do with how well I'm doing my job.

I do read comments people post on my social media accounts. I like to know what they think about how I and my Government are doing. I try to skim through the ones that are personal and nasty. I try to focus on what real people say to me in real situations, not a nameless troll who hides behind a keyboard. I occasionally put up a funny comment in response to something cruel, but humour on Twitter can be misunderstood and it's usually best to ignore them.

On the upside, if I am having a bad day, it is inevitable that I will encounter a random act of kindness from a complete stranger.

I'm quite an emotional person. Tears can come at times but never over what someone has said about me on social media. I save those tears for real situations and real people who have experienced tragedy.

Perhaps growing up with big brothers who teased me mercilessly has given me a thick skin and I can shrug off the personal comments about my appearance.

What I can't shrug off are death threats, threats against my family, or comments I think can lead to violence.

17 Jun, 2016 9:30am
2 minutes to read

I recently reposted on Facebook a comment a man wrote that, in my opinion, was at best treating lightly and at worst advocating sexual violence. It created some publicity because I broke the golden rule that you don't engage with trolls. But sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand, for yourself, your family and friends, and for all the others who follow you on social media.

Sometimes you have to stand up and say it's not okay.

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