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Online bullying, harassment skyrockets since COVID outbreak

By Shannon Williams
Thu 7 Jul 2022

Harmful content reports have risen by over 25% since the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, according to Netsafe.

Netsafe says that while the internet kept everyone connected during lockdown, incidents of online bullying, harassment, and all forms of harmful content skyrocketed.

"Everyone is at risk of being targeted which makes online safety more important than ever," says Netsafe CEO Brent Carey.

"Netsafe's research shows an increase of more than 25% in harmful content reports over the last two years, with Māori, children, and women targeted the most.

"We need to engage our diverse communities and put them at the forefront of online safety conversations. Everyone deserves to use digital technology without being harmed," he says.

Online safety is the constant topic in this year's New Zealand Netsafety Week. The overall theme Diversity Matters. Online Safety Done Together is about understanding different communities online safety perspectives and encouraging respectful relationships online.

There are multiple paid-for and free in-person events, as well as online safety webinars relating to a diverse range of groups including LGBTQI+, young people, women, and seniors.

One highlight is a one-day in person Hui on 27 July at Auckland University to speak about issues and listen to concerns from Mori.

The focus is to look at better outcomes for Māori by embracing Te Tiriti, tikanga and strengthening Māori inclusion in decision-making.

"We want to build relationships with iwi, hap and whanau and ensure Māori aren't getting overlooked when it comes to online safety. On the day we have various facilitators who will start community conversations between Māori, agencies, and NZ tech providers," says Carey.

"Netsafe's Youth Action Squad (YAS) will be participating throughout the week to support students discussions, lead activities and enact positive change around online safety issues that affect them."

Carey says young people can struggle to confide in adults but may find it easier talking with their peers. 

"The Youth Action Squad provides an opportunity to speak up without feeling judged. Its an example of Netsafety week bringing together the community and creating positive relationships, so everyone feels safe.

"We are sharing advice to empower young people to take advantage of the opportunities offered by technology.

"For over 20 years Netsafe has worked to create a safe and positive online experience, but problems do arise from an error in judgement, risk-taking behaviour or being targeted regardless of the precautions in place.

Netsafety week aims to limit those problems by educating everyone in the community on how to stay safe online."

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