Dealing with bullying is not easy. Workplace or school yard bullies have been around a long time and there are ways of dealing with their behaviour. However, as electronic devices and social media become more and more used in everyday life new avenues for bullies have developed. The latest types of bullying such as online bullying (cyberbullying) can be even more difficult for employers and parents to deal with. The outcomes if things go wrong can be very tragic. There are steps that you can take to deal with cyberbullying. Netsafe has begun its role as the complaints agency to deal with online harassment. Netsafe can provide advice, try to resolve issues, and liaise with website hosts and internet service providers to ask them to take down or moderate offending posts. The service is free, and available 7 days a week. Netsafe recommends that if possible you collect evidence of the incident as soon as you discover it, for example by taking a screen shot, recording the URL (the full address) of the web page, or if it is an email, copying the email text and headers.

If Netsafe cannot resolve the complaint and the cyberbullying is serious or repeated, and deliberately intended to cause serious emotional distress, you can then apply to the court under the Harmful Digital Communications Act. The court may order that the material be taken down, that the behaviour be stopped, order corrections or any apology or right of reply, or the identity of an anonymous poster be revealed, or name suppression for any of the parties.

The Harassment Act may also apply. The court must be satisfied that there have been at least two acts of harassment within a 12 month period. Harassment includes unwanted communication, following you, entering your property without permission, loitering outside your home or work, or anything that makes you fear for your safety. You may then apply to the Court for a Restraining Order preventing all contact between the harasser and you. If you do not know the person’s name, you can ask the Police to verify the person’s identity. The Court must be satisfied that your circumstances would cause distress to a reasonable person and that an order is necessary to protect you from further harassment. Often an agreement can be reached by which the accused agrees not to harass the person. However, agreements cannot result in a Court ordered penalty if breached so for serious matters it is better to get the Court order which can then be enforced.

You could also consider contacting the other party directly and asking them to stop. It is possible that they are not aware that their communications are harmful.

If the message incites you or your children to commit suicide, for example, it says something like, “you are ugly, just go and kill yourself,” or is a threat to you or your children’s safety, you should report this to the Police.

These situations can be extremely upsetting and stressful, but you do not have to put up with cyberbullying and harassment.

Alan Knowsley