Communtity Law Manual | Harassment & bullying | Complaining to the website, phone company or other “online host”

Cyberbullying: Protections against online/digital harassment

Complaining to the website, phone company or other “online host”

How to complain

Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015, s 25(1)

You can make a written complaint with the online host yourself, or you can ask NetSafe, as the cyberbullying complaints agency, to make the complaint for you, on your behalf.

NetSafe can also give you advice and help about your complaint.

What to include in your complaint

Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015, s 24(3)

Your complaint should be in writing and should:

  • give your contact details, including a physical address
  • identify the particular material so the host can locate it easily
  • say why you think the material you’re complaining about either breaches the com­mu­nications principles (see above, “The 10 principles for online/digital behaviour”) or is “unlawful” (it could be unlawful because, for example, it includes false statements that are defamatory)
  • say whether you agree to the host identifying you when they pass on your complaint to the person responsible for the material.

The complaints process

Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015, ss 23-25

Since July 2015, the Harmful Digital Communications Act has encouraged all people or organisations that host online content to provide their users with a complaints process that’s effective and easy to access.

The “online content hosts” covered by the Act include phone companies, media companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and also all people who run websites, social media pages, online forums and blogs on which other people can post comments, pictures or videos.

The incentive the Act provides is that these online hosts can protect themselves from legal responsibility for material posted by other people if the host follows the complaints process set out in the Act. These protections are sometimes called “safe harbour” provisions. They will, for example, protect a website operator from being sued for defamation if a user posts false statements about someone.

To benefit from the safe harbour protections, an online content host must:

  • provide an easily accessible way for people to complain about content – such as a simple button or other clear link on the host’s website, and
  • once a complaint is made, follow the steps explained below, including the relevant time limits.

What are the steps the host has to follow if they want legal protection?

Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015, s 24(2)

These are the steps the online host has to follow if they want to be protected from legal responsibility after you’ve complained to them about a harmful online post:

  • They have 48 hours to send a copy of your complaint to the person responsible for the post.
  • If they can’t contact the other person after making reasonable efforts (for example, if they can’t find out who the person responsible is), the host has to remove the content within 48 hours after first receiving your complaint.
  • If the person responsible for the post is contacted successfully, they can respond to your complaint within 48 hours, and say whether or not they agree to the material being taken down. (Their response is called a “counter-notice”.)
  • If the person responsible does agree to their post coming down, the online host has to take it down as soon as practicable. If the person responsible doesn’t agree to it being taken down, the material stays where it is, unless and until you’re able to get it removed later – for example, by a court takedown order.
  • If the person responsible doesn’t respond within 48 hours after getting the copy of your complaint, the host has to take down the material as soon as practicable.
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