Cyberbullying: Protections against online/digital harassment
The Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 set up special processes you can use if you’re been 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
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, “Going 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
For example, Flannagan v Sperling
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”.
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.