Home | Browse Topics | Criminal & traffic law | Bullying, harassment and sexual harm | Cyberbullying: Protections against online/digital harassment

Criminal & traffic law

Cyberbullying: Protections against online/digital harassment


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.

Harmful Digital Communications (Appointment of Approved Agency) Order 2016

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: “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 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.

Did this answer your question?

Bullying, harassment and sexual harm

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Victims Information

Victims Information is managed by the Ministry of Justice and provides links to a range of services available to help victims deal with the practical and emotional effects of the crime.

Website: www.victimsinfo.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 650 654

NZ Police

The police provide a list of phone counselling services and websites that can help victims of bullying and cyberbullying.

Website: www.police.govt.nz/about-site/other-sites/no-bully-website

Harassment and bullying in the workplace

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

Website: www.worksafe.govt.nz/topic-and-industry/bullying-prevention-toolbox

Te Kāhui Tika Tangata/Human Rights Commission

The Human Rights Commission website provides information about human rights in Aotearoa and outlines how you can make a complaint to the Commission.

Website: tikatangata.org.nz or www.hrc.co.nz
Email: infoline@hrc.co.nz
Phone: 0800 496 877 (0800 4 YOUR RIGHTS)

Information on racial harassment: www.hrc.co.nz/files/6714/2354/5062/24-Nov-2009_16-20-38_RacialHarassment-web.pdf

To make a complaint online, download a complaint form or find out more about the complaints process: tikatangata.org.nz/resources-and-support/make-a-complaint

YouthLaw Aotearoa

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.

Website: www.youthlaw.co.nz
Email: nzyouthlaw@gmail.com
Phone: 0800 UTHLAW (0800 884 529)



NetSafe provides 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.

Website: www.netsafe.org.nz
Email: help@netsafe.org.nz
Phone: 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723)
Text: “Netsafe” to 4282

Ministry of Justice – applying for a Harmful Digital Communications Order

See the Ministry of Justice website for 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.

Website: www.justice.govt.nz/courts/civil/harmful-digital-communications/applying-for-a-harmful-digital-communications-order

NOTE: Before you apply to the court you must have complained to NetSafe.

Support for sexual harassment and assault

Wellington Rape Crisis

Wellington Rape Crisis provides free social work and counselling services to survivors, along with their friends, family, whānau and supporters.

Website: wellingtonrapecrisis.org.nz
Phone: 04 801 8973
Email: support@wellingtonrapecrisis.org.nz


HELP has been Auckland’s specialist provider of sexual abuse support services since 1982.

Website: www.helpauckland.org.nz
Email: gethelp@helpauckland.org.nz
Phone: 0800 623 1700
Instagram: www.instagram.com/helpauckland

Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Aotearoa

Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Aotearoa aims to enable all male survivors of sexual abuse to access a national network of a high quality support services.

Website: malesurvivor.nz

Contact your local support organisation: malesurvivor.nz/contact

Safe to Talk

Safe to Talk offers free confidential contact with a trained specialist at any time, day or night, seven days a week.

Website: safetotalk.nz
Email: support@safetotalk.nz
Phone: 0800 044 334
Text: 4334

Also available as a book

The Community Law Manual

The Manual contains over 1000 pages of easy-to-read legal info and comprehensive answers to common legal questions. From ACC to family law, health & disability, jobs, benefits & flats, Tāonga Māori, immigration and refugee law and much more, the Manual covers just about every area of community and personal life.

Buy The Community Law Manual

Help the manual

We’re a small team that relies on the generosity of all our supporters. You can make a one-off donation or become a supporter by sponsoring the Manual for a community organisation near you. Every contribution helps us to continue updating and improving our legal information, year after year.

Donate Become a Supporter

Find the Answer to your Legal Question

back to top