In an ever-expanding digital world, we will inevitably find ourselves the victim of some form of harmful digital communication. The definition of a harmful digital communication is ever-increasing, no doubt we have all seen or experienced what is probably the most common form of online abuse: the ‘comments’ section of the likes of Facebook, YouTube or your favourite online newspaper.
However, a harmful digital communication can come in many forms such as trolling, doxing, bullying, cyberstalking, e-bile, false rumours, deepfake videos, online sexual harassment, physical threats, and revenge pornography. It is easy to see that any of these types of harmful digital communications could greatly impact the life of the victim.
There are a variety of ways one can try to handle a harmful digital communication. Some may find it easy not to read the comments, others may seek professional help to deal with their emotions or to call out the perpetrators. But what happens when it goes too far, when we can no longer avoid the harassment? The first hurdle to overcome, for some people, is the embarrassment and potential feelings of guilt over their digital harassment. The second hurdle is the general feeling that there is little to no point in reporting the issue because there is nothing the law can do to help. However, things are changing. Born out of an increasing concern to address harmful digital communications, New Zealand implemented The Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015. There to deter, prevent and mitigate harmful digital communications, it has a number of key aspects, one being the appointment of an approved agency to assist with resolving complaints. This agency is called Netsafe.
A criminal offence is committed where a person posts a digital communication with the intention of causing harm to their victim, which an ordinary reasonable person put in the same position as the victim, would also experience that harm and where the posting of the digital communication does cause harm. Harm is defined under the Act to be serious emotional distress, and there are a number of factors that are considered when determining if an online post has caused harm. These include, but are not limited to, repetition of the post, the language used and the age and characteristics of the victim.
If the person committing the offence is found guilty, they can expect to receive a term in prison that does not exceed two years or a fine of no more than $50,000. So, if you are the victim of an unwanted harmful digital communication you should not suffer in silence. You can report your incident via the Netsafe website. Once you have completed the form, it will be reviewed, and you will be contacted with advice. And whilst Netsafe are not an enforcement agency, they are backed up by new powers given to the District Court who are now able to make orders in favour of those who experience harm from harmful digital communications.
The more we report what happens to us, the better equipped Netsafe will be to manage the problem and make changes that matter, resulting in a safer online world for everyone.