This research report presents findings from an exploratory study about the extent and nature of digital self-harm among New Zealand teens. Digital self-harm is broadly defined here as the anonymous online posting or sharing of mean or negative online content about oneself. The report centres on the prevalence of digital self- harm (or self-cyberbullying) among New Zealand teens (aged 13-17), the motivations, and outcomes related to engaging in this behaviour. The findings described in this report are representative of the teenage population of New Zealand by gender, ethnicity and age.

Summary of findings:

  • Overall, 6% of New Zealand teens have anonymously posted mean or negative content online about themselves in the past year.
  • Among those teens who engaged in digital self-harm, most did it more than once (65%).
  • Digital self-harm appears to be more prevalent among younger teenagers, those aged 13 and 14 years old.
  • Teenagers’ top reasons for this behaviour were: making a joke, wanting to show resilience, looking for friends’ sympathy, and seeking reassurance of friendship.
  • Girls and boys pointed out different reasons for engaging in digital self-harm:
    – Girls reported wanting to show resilience, looking for friends’ sympathy, and seeking reassurance of friendship.
    – Meanwhile, for boys it was mainly about making a joke.
  • There is an indication that digital self- harm is more prevalent among teens experiencing one or more disabilities.
  • About a third of respondents (35%) said they achieved the outcome they looked for after digitally self-harming themselves. This was significantly higher for boys than girls.
  • Teens who did not self-harm believe that those who did it mainly look for peer attention and the sympathy from friends.

View full report



View full report


Netsafe established a research programme in November 2016 as part of its role as the Approved Agency under the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015. Netsafe’s research explores the relationship between digital technology, people and society primarily in the context of the risk and impact of harmful digital communications.

Netsafe’s research programme is contributing with exploratory research of topics involving adult and young New Zealanders. Our contribution includes:

  • Adult New Zealanders and harmful digital communications.
  • Teenagers and the prevalence of the sharing of nudes (‘sexting’).
  • Teenagers’ interaction with digital technologies and views on online safety.
  • Perceptions of teenagers about digital risks and harm (qualitative).
  • A measure of teenagers’ personal experiences of digital risks and harm.




As Director of Policy at Netsafe, Neil is the interface between the organisation and its government partners. Neil provides expert advice on the role and impact of digital technology in the lives of children, young people, family and whānau. In relation to education this involves providing advice to the Ministry of Education on trends and emerging issues.





Edgar is our Research Analyst. His role is to plan and implement Netsafe’s research and evaluation. Edgar holds a PhD in Information Systems and a BA (Hons) in Public Policy. Before joining Netsafe he worked for Victoria University of Wellington as a research project manager and research assistant on eGovernment and other technology-related topics. He has also conducted and published research on digital technologies in the context of young people, higher education, and disability.


We’ve worked on projects with the Ministry for Women (NZ), UK Safer Internet Centre, University of Plymouth (UK), Office of the eSafety Commissioner (Aus), Office of Film & Literature Classification (NZ), UNICEF (NZ), and Waikato University’s CROW Lab. Find us at the conference to discuss how we can work together, or email