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Community life

Cyberbullying: Protections against online/digital harassment


Harmful Digital Communications (Appointment of Approved Agency) Order 2016

The Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 set up special processes you can use if you’re being harassed or bullied through texts, emails, websites, apps or social media posts. The aim is to provide a relatively quick and easy way for harm to be reduced, including by getting harmful posts or messages taken down or disabled, while at the same time giving people appropriate room for freedom of expression.

One of the features introduced by this Act is a special complaints and mediation agency. NetSafe, the internet safety organisation, has been appointed to play this role.

If going to NetSafe doesn’t fix the problem, you can apply to the District Court. The judge can do things like order the harmful post to be taken down, or order the person responsible to publish a correction or an apology.

The Act also establishes a number of specific principles to guide online/digital behaviour (see below). NetSafe and judges have to take these principles into account when they’re dealing with claims that someone has been cyberbullied.

The 10 principles for online/digital behaviour

Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015, s 6

The Harmful Digital Communications Act sets out 10 principles that apply to texts, emails and online posts – what the Act calls “digital communications”.

NetSafe, as the cyberbullying complaints agency, is supposed to take these principles into account when it’s considering a complaint (see below, “Complaining to Netsafe, the cyberbullying complaints agency”). If complaining to NetSafe doesn’t solve the problem and you decide to take your complaint to the District Court, the judge will also have to take these principles into account (see “Going to the District Court about cyberbullying”).

The principles say that “digital communications” that are sent to you or are about you shouldn’t do any of the following things:

  • give out sensitive personal information about you
  • be threatening, intimidating or menacing
  • be grossly offensive, as judged by any reasonable person in your position
  • be indecent or obscene
  • be used to harass you
  • make false claims about you
  • contain information or material that you had given to someone in confidence
  • encourage other people to send you a message for the purpose of causing you harm
  • encourage you to kill yourself
  • put you down (“denigrate” you) on the basis of your colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.

Other laws that can be used against cyberbullying

Case: See for example [2013] DCR 567

The Harassment Act covers harassment and intimidation across a wide range of different forms, whether it’s through texts, emails or online posts, or through face-to-face harassment, stalking or letters. The Act says it applies where someone leaves offensive pictures or text where you’ll see it, and this specifically includes online material.

The protections in the Harassment Act have sometimes been used in cases of online harassment. The Act allows you to apply to the District Court for a restraining order to stop the harassing behaviour – see the previous section, “Harassment in the community: Getting protection under the Harassment Act”.

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Harassment and bullying

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and information.

Victims Information


Phone: 0800 650 654
Email: victimsinfo@justice.govt.nz

This is the website of the government’s “Victims Centre”. The site provides links to a range of services available to help victims deal with the practical and emotional effects of the crime, at each stage of the criminal and youth justice process.

Human Rights Commission


Phone: 0800 496 877
Email: infoline@hrc.co.nz

The Human Rights Commission website has information about your rights if you’re sexually or racially harassed:

“Sexual harassment” guide

Racial harassment

Harassment and bullying in the workplace


The Worksafe New Zealand website has information and guidance about workplace bullying:

YouthLaw Aotearoa


Phone: 0800 UTHLAW (0800 884 529)
Email: nzyouthlaw@gmail.com

YouthLaw provides free legal advice for young people throughout New Zealand. Their website provides great information for young people about the law around harassment and bullying.

Ministry of Justice

Applying for a Harmful Digital Communications Order

This has information about applying to a District Court judge for a “take down” order or other type of action when you’ve suffered serious emotional distress because of cyberbullying:


Help with online bullying, abuse and harassment


Go to this website for free and confidential help if you’ve been bullied, abused or harassed online. NetSafe has been appointed by the government to be a free information service and complaints agency under the Harmful Digital Communications Act.

NZ Police


This police webpage lists a number of phone counselling services and websites that can help.

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