Reports of harmful digital communications increased 24% in one year – Netsafe

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More and more people are reporting bad experiences online, but not all of them are covered by current legislation.

Netsafe saw a 24% increase in reports of harmful digital communication, according to data released ahead of the organization’s online safety week.

But when it comes to hate speech or bullying and harassment that occurs both offline and digitally, they often fall outside the scope of the Harmful Digital Communications Act, said Managing Director Martin Cocker.

Netsafe is the first port of call for people considering legal action, such as obtaining a takedown order, to see if a solution can be found.

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The organization has dealt with everything from image-based sexual abuse – also known as revenge pornography – to neighborhood conflicts that have escalated to the point of harassing people across multiple online platforms, Cocker said.

Attacks can be relentless, he said, and when carried out using technology, they follow a person wherever they go.

“By far, the vast majority of people we deal with are victims of someone else’s behavior. They could not have done anything to avoid finding themselves in this situation.

In cases where there has been a criminal offense, the matter goes directly to the police.

There were 270 convictions under the law between 2015 and 2020, Figures from the Ministry of Justice show.

But Netsafe has helped more than 14,000 people under the Harmful Digital Communications Act since November 2016.

That’s why the organization wants to get families talking during Internet Safety Week, which begins July 26 and aims to keep everyone safe online.

Increasingly, Netsafe is being approached by people whose cases do not fit well with the Harmful Digital Communications Act, said chief executive Martin Cocker.

Netsafe

Increasingly, Netsafe is being approached by people whose cases do not fit well with the Harmful Digital Communications Act, said chief executive Martin Cocker.

A growing number of cases coming to Netsafe fall outside of the law – particularly incidents of hate speech or situations where the abuse is both online and offline, Cocker said.

People have been hurt and need a resolution, but the law is not the right tool, he said.

Hate speech, for example, can be directed at an ill-defined group with no one in particular, making it difficult for aggrieved people to show that they have been targeted.

It’s also difficult when the harassment spreads to the online and offline worlds, as the law is only about digital behavior.

Sometimes offline threats have online follow-ups, Cocker said, but the harmful digital communications law is only about online communications.

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Sometimes offline threats have online follow-ups, Cocker said, but the harmful digital communications law is only about online communications.

Imagine a threat made offline, coming into a house and hurting someone, Cocker said, followed by a text message saying “Hope you have a good day gardening.”

The language may not sound dangerous, but it is meant to be frightening, he said.

That’s not to say that Netsafe can’t do anything in these situations, Cocker said, but resolution tends to take a lot longer – for the organization and the complainant.

He would like the law to be broadened to cover people “directly involved in a hate speech incident but not necessarily named in it”.

Another useful addition could be a third party advocacy service, as Netsafe must remain neutral.

Often people have tried to deal with a situation before coming to Netsafe, he said, and are very stressed and upset.

Sometimes disputes have gone on for years, the attacks can be relentless and insidious, and no reasonable person can resist this for long periods of time, Cocker said.

Some believe young and old have the most problems online, but people between the ages of 22 and 40 accounted for almost 40% of reports in Netsafe over the past year.

Kate Torline / Unsplash

Some believe young and old have the most problems online, but people between the ages of 22 and 40 accounted for almost 40% of reports in Netsafe over the past year.

Some of the more difficult cases to resolve are those where there is a dispute over the truth of something posted on social media – perhaps accusing someone of committing a crime or being unqualified for their job. – and the two sides are intractable, Cocker said.

And he cautions against the “young people are cyberbullied, the elderly are getting ripped off” point of view on the Internet.

Almost 40 percent of Netsafe’s reports over the past year have been from people between the ages of 22 and 40.

Netsafe hosts Network Security Week July 26-30 and will cover issues such as scams, digital parenting, bullying and hate speech.

There will be online safety courses in schools and the launch of a toolkit to help young people play online.

Major sponsors for the week include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok, and other brands have joined as supporters.

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