Netsafe has civil powers to help internet users (including teachers, students, whānau and school leaders) more easily resolve cases of harmful digital communication (HDC).

There are three sections to this page that will help schools and educators to:

  1. Understand the Act;
  2. Know how the HDC Act impacts schools; and
  3. Access advice and resources for schools and educators

For more information call Netsafe toll free on 0508 638 723

1. Understanding the HDC Act

What is the Harmful Digital Communications Act?
The Act was passed in 2015 to provide a way for individuals to take action and reduce the harm caused by harmful digital communications. At its core are 10 communication principles which define the criteria for which any digital communication may be deemed harmful.

The Act introduces new:

  1. Measures to resolve HDC complaints quickly and simplifies the process for getting harmful communications off the internet; and
  2. Criminal offences to penalise the most serious perpetrators (relevant to anyone 14 years and over).

What are harmful digital communications?
Harmful digital communications can take many forms including emails, texts and pictures, website content, blog posts, comments, online forums, social networks and mobile apps.

What is the new service that Netsafe offers?
Netsafe has a new service available to help resolve cyberbullying and online harassment.

School leaders and whānau will now be able to contact Netsafe (with the young person’s consent secured using the school’s usual processes) to help resolve complaints about harmful digital communications.

The new service simplifies the process for getting harmful communications removed from the internet and introduces new criminal and civil offences.

Netsafe provides the free service which is available to all New Zealand internet users, including schools and their communities. The service includes:

  • reviewing and investigating individual complaints;
  • advising on legal implications;
  • mediating between the complainant and the instigator; and
  • referring unresolved complaints to the District Court’s new civil process.

Find out more about the service.

2. The HDC Act and Schools

What does the Act mean for schools?
Boards of Trustees must provide a safe physical and emotional environment in schools/kura. This includes cyberbullying and online harassment.

Under the Act, anyone, including a school representative, can file a complaint to Netsafe on behalf of a young person targeted in an online incident. The affected individual should be a student of that school and, ideally, should give consent to the school contacting Netsafe using the school’s usual consent processes.

It is important that schools are familiar with the new complaints process so they support students and their families/whānau in the event of an incident. It is also important to make students aware of potential implications if they are involved with the cyberbullying or online harassment of another person.

What does ‘safe harbour’ mean for schools?
Under the Act, a school can be considered an ‘online content host’ if it controls an online service where content can be posted. Examples include:

  • school websites with comments sections;
  • Facebook and other social media pages/groups;
  • class blog sites; or
  • other apps that enable comments e.g. ‘Seesaw’

If harmful communications are posted to an online service hosted by a school, it may be legally responsible for user content. Schools will not be held responsible for this content if the ‘safe harbour’ process outlined in the Act is followed.

If Netsafe requests that a school remove content from their online service, and the school follows the required steps and timeframes to manage and resolve the complaint, it will be protected from prosecution under the safe harbour process.

For more information on the safe harbour process visit the Ministry of Justice website.

Procedural Guidelines for School Leaders

Schools should follow existing obligations already in place under the Education Act, such as the National Administration Guideline 5 (NAG 5). We advise that schools check that their response processes include:

  1. Contacting Netsafe in the event of an incident;
  2. Identifying the professional leader (e.g. Principal) who will make contact on the school’s behalf; and
  3. Aim to ensure the affected student(s) has given their consent for the school to contact Netsafe, using the school’s usual consent processes.

3. Advice and Resources for Schools and Educators

Preparing for the HDC Act 
Young people are disproportionately targeted by harmful digital communications, and their age can make them more vulnerable to harm.
The new service provides a timely reminder for schools to ensure that they:

  • are familiar with the new complaints process so they can support students and their families/whānau in the event of cyberbullying or online harassment;
  • help young people understand the services that will be available to them if they experience cyberbullying or online harassment;
  • help young people understand the potential implications if they are involved with the cyberbullying or online harassment of another person; and
  • proactively plan to foster digital citizenship with students and whānau through the curriculum, wellbeing, professional learning and community engagement.

Please note: the criminal regime does not apply to children (aged 0-13), but can be applied to young people aged 14-16 and adults (students aged 17-18).

Response and Reporting Processes
Online incidents can escalate rapidly, so it is important for schools to be prepared for prompt and proactive response:

  • Ensure cyberbullying and online harassment is included in bullying prevention and response processes;
  • Review and update incident response processes – including how the school will manage complaints from students and liaise with whānau; and
  • Confirm that all staff understand and can apply the processes that are in place.

The Bullying-free NZ website provides handy tips and resources for educators.

Learn more about how to manage the safe and responsible use of digital technology for learning within the context of Surrender, Retention, and Search Rules 2013.

Preventing Harmful Digital Communications
Being proactive in your approach can help to minimise the risk of harmful digital communications:

  • Review your whole school approach to wellbeing and safety;
  • Identify existing internal expertise and plan for ongoing professional development;
  • Address digital citizenship skills and competencies deliberately and meaningfully in the curriculum; and
  • Talk with students, parents, families/whānau about the use of digital technology in school.

For more information and advice visit Netsafe’s The Kit.

How does Netsafe already support schools and kura?
Netsafe provides cybersafety advice and education for schools in a variety of ways including online resources, printed materials and school visits.

Netsafe should continue to be the first port of call for support related to online safety and security issues including scams, cyberbullying, privacy breaches and objectionable material. For more information call Netsafe on 0508 638 723

More information