New Zealand's online watchdog launches a new hotline tomorrow for Kiwis to report cyber hate and have "trolls" investigated.
NetSafe is stepping up the fight against cyberbullying with a new service which will analyse abuse, advise victims on how to deal with situations and where necessary, engage police to trigger court action.
Last year lawmakers passed the Harmful Digital Communications Act to make cyberbullying a criminal offence. That includes any abusive text message, writing, photograph, picture, recording, or other material communicated electronically.
Police said they could only confirm how many people have been charged under the legislation since it was launched under the Official Information Act - a process which takes 20 working days.
However, Netsafe executive director Martin Cocker says it's more than 80 people - and it's time bullies were made an example of.
"Sometimes it takes an example to dissuade other people," Cocker told Newstalk ZB's Tony Veitch.
"I do think at some point examples will have to be set. We live in a free country, a democracy and people are entitled to express their opinions, but there is a line that's clearly being crossed on a fairly regular basis.
"The content is designed to harm the individuals it's aimed at, rather than providing people's opinions on sport or outcomes."
A string of high-profile Kiwis have been caught in social media abuse recently, including teenage world golf number one Lydia Ko - who temporarily closed her Twitter account, Warriors league stars Shaun Johnson and Manu Vatuvei - who was reduced to tears in a radio interview on the subject - and international netballer Cathrine Tuivaiti.
Vatuvei was forced to take a week's medical leave when pushed to "breaking point" after making an emotional social media post and then reacting angrily to criticism from online trolls. He was left heartbroken when his children were subjected to schoolyard bullying.
"That's the toughest thing, when your kids come home crying," Vatuvei said. "I was at a breaking point at that time [of the social media spat] with all the things that were being said about me. It not only hurts me but it hurts my family, too."
Cocker says abuse can be so cruel it puts victims at risk of self-harm and even suicide.
"That is an outcome that we see across the community. It won't be a surprise to us if it happens to a high-profile sportsperson. These people are just humans and if you abuse somebody for long enough it well get them down, it will affect them.
"We really hope that doesn't happen of course, but it's a distinct possibility."
Cocker says well-known identities, such as sport stars, and members of the public should have no hesitation in using the new service to report abuse.
"Clearly some members of the community feel that no particular rules apply and the kinds of things they wouldn't necessarily say anywhere else, somehow they feel those things are appropriate on social media," he said.
"For a lot of sportspeople, social media would have led to much better and more meaningful engagement with fans.
"We want to get rid of the people ruining that experience."
Where abuse is reported, NetSafe is prepared to forward the worst cases directly to police.
"If it's a very serious offence you can go straight to the police," Cocker said. "In most cases we'd recommend people come to NetSafe first and we'll analyse it and recommend whether they should go to police.
"Sometimes we just work with the industry members to get this sort of content removed. In many cases we will go to the person who has produced it to inform them they have offended under the act and that they need to remedy that, otherwise they might be up for a trip to court."
CYBERBULLYING: HELP AND ADVICE
• Call NetSafe on 0508 638 723 or visit netsafe.org.nz.
• Tell people you trust. They will want to help you stop the bullying quickly and safely.
• Do not reply to the people bullying you.
• Save all bullying messages and images which can be used as evidence later.
• Block accounts sending bullying messages.
• Contact police if the abuser threatens harm.