Warning: This story may be distressing for some readers.
Students at a top Auckland high school have been left in fear after receiving repeated murder and rape threats from an anonymous Snapchat account.
A scared father said one 12-year-old girl, who was a sibling of a high school student, had received a message saying, 'I'm going to come to your house and rape you', with her home address then sent to her phone.
Police are investigating the serious threats and are working with Albany Senior High School and NetSafe to track down the culprits sending the cyber abuse.
Meanwhile, NetSafe chief executive Martin Cocker told the Herald there had been a spike in the past month of social media abuse towards young people and "a handful" of schools across the country had been affected.
"The truth is we are seeing an escalation of this around the country," Coker said.
"We are seeing accusations of sexual assault being published and we are also seeing threats of [sexual assault], and in quite significantly higher numbers than we would normally so it's definitely something that's happening now and is of some concern."
The father who spoke to the Herald described the threats as "really violent and terrifying". He understood thousands of messages had been sent to students attending the North Shore school.
He didn't want to be named out of fear his daughter could be identified and receive further abuse.
His daughter was sent a message, which was seen by the Herald, saying: "I'm going to send a butcher's knife through your skull."
The father described his daughter as a "resilient wee character" who had been providing support to other affected students.
The threatening messages were being sent from an anonymous account. It's understood the account was being used by multiple people because they were popping up at different areas quite quickly on Snapchat maps, the father said.
"So they'll pop up in Takapuna and then two minutes later, they'll be out at Whangaparāoa and then back at Albany so it's jumping all over the place.
"There have been some examples where they specifically talk about a guy's girlfriend and say what they are going to do to the girlfriend."
The cyber abuse escalated when the fake social media account was posted online claiming the culprit was a male ASHS student, principal Claire Amos told the Herald.
However, that student had been wrongly accused, said Amos - who is also on the board of independent online safety organisation Netsafe.
The father said one of the students was threatening to hurt the boy and was aghast that an innocent child could have ended up badly injured on school grounds.
Amos said she first became aware of the cyber abuse affecting Albany Senior High students after receiving emails from anonymous Gmail addresses last week.
She sent an email to all parents last night alerting them to the threats.
"Last week, on Thursday, we became aware of a situation where social media accounts (Instagram and SnapChat) were created under a male name.
"Both social media accounts became very active very quickly, making inappropriate and offensive remarks about young women," the email said.
She revealed that the situation extended beyond Albany Senior High School across other North Shore schools.
"We have reported any accounts we are aware of. Netsafe and the Police are actively involved in this case and we encourage you to pass on any information that you have to Netsafe and the Police as it may further support their investigation.
"We understand these incidents can be very distressing, and we are doing our best to ensure our young people are being supported."
The principal told the Herald the school had also been doing work to educate students about online safety and the harm of spreading potential misinformation.
"It's been a really upsetting and complex situation."
Acting Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Renfree, Waitematā East CIB, said police had received third party information and were making further inquiries.
"It would be helpful if Police could hear directly from anyone who has received these messages or anyone with further information."
Police were treating this matter seriously and asked anyone with information to contact Renfree on 105 or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is Snap Chat?
• Snapchat is a messaging app used to send photos and videos with text. These messages are called "snaps". Snaps are only available to view for a few seconds and then disappear. Once everyone that has been sent a Snap has viewed it, Snapchat's system automatically deletes it from their servers.
• Snap Map is a function on Snapchat which if a user and a friend follow one another, those users can share their locations with each other. A user can choose who can view their location or enter "Ghost Mode" so their location cannot be seen.
Six tips for parents:
• Understand - Read about the potential online risks, challenges and sometimes illegal behaviour young people face to understand what may happen.
• Learn - Ask your child about what they do, who they talk to and how they use
devices to learn about their activities. Check in regularly to see what has changed.
• Explore -Take the time yourself to explore the sites, apps and technologies your child uses to improve your knowledge and understand their experience.
• Agree - Create a family code with your child to agree on what they can do online
including sites to visit, appropriate behaviours, privacy settings and limitations.
• Model - Be a good example to your child. Make sure you role model the sort of behaviours you want to see your child use online and offline.
• Plan - Make a plan so everybody knows what to do if something goes wrong and where you will be able to get advice and support in challenging times.
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
• 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)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.