The online world is an exciting and innovative space, but our increased reliance on it also means an increase in potential risks and challenges. When these challenges emerge, schools can feel overwhelmed and unsure of their responsibilities.  Whether an event or incident occurs inside or outside of school hours, the spill over and impact on students and staff is considerable.

It is important for schools to have a response plan in place and an understanding how legislation, including the Harmful Digital Communications Act, Education Act and Ministry of Education guidelines can support schools’ procedures if an incident occurs.

Having a plan in place to manage digital incidents is vital, however developing proactive approaches across the school is equally as important when building a positive online culture and engagement with digital technology.


Knowing how to respond and what first steps to take is essential to reducing further harm and minimising distress.

The goal is to ensure the wellbeing and safety of those involved, and to work towards a resolution so that a positive learning environment is maintained. It is important to remember that the focus should be on the behaviours behind the incident and not the technology.
The principles that guide how schools respond to digital incidents are to:

  • minimise student / staff distress or harm
  • maintain student / staff safety
  • focus on the behaviors – not the technology
  • follow school processes regarding student consent and confidentiality

The school’s usual disciplinary or behaviour management practices apply and schools have the authority to act even if the incident has taken place outside of school.

The guide

Responding to online incidents



To support schools, Netsafe has developed a guide for managing online digital incidents. The Responding to Online Digital Incidents Involving Students guide can be used as a reference if an online incident occurs and you want to check steps, or seek further advice, and can also be used as a reference when updating response policies, guidelines and procedures.

The guide outlines first actions and considerations, including: Gathering of facts to determine what has happened and who is involved

  • Supporting those involved
  • Recording all details of the incident
  • Determining the nature and legality of the content
  • Knowing the ‘Must Do’s’, and the ‘Don’ts’
  • Contacting those who need to know and organisations who can support and advise
  • Communicating as necessary with those who need to know



The Ministry of Education have guidelines that outline what actions are appropriate, and what actions are not when gathering evidence or reviewing harmful content involved in an incident.


The Harmful Digital Communications Act (2015) and the new complaints processes can support students and their families/whānau in the event of an incident. It is important to make students aware of potential implications if they are involved with the online bullying or harassment of another person.


  • When it comes to online safety, it is important not to rely solely on preventative measures and protections. Effective approaches to developing safe and responsible use of technology are active and ongoing, and underpinned by the idea that everyone is involved.
  • A whole community approach, with communication between the school, teachers, students, parents and whānau about the role of digital technology within the school is important.
  • Plan for strategies that promote:
    • the development of digital citizenship and online safety skills, knowledge, and attitudes/values across the school
    • opportunities for students to be involved in decisions about the management of digital technology at the school
    • the development of a pro-social culture of digital technology use
    • involvement of the whole community in supporting positive online engagement and preventing and responding to incidents
    • regular review of policies, procedures and programmes


We support schools in a number of ways, including:

  • advise on first steps including how to gather evidence
  • help to take down content (if content breaches sites’ Terms and Conditions)
  • provide information about the Harmful Digital Communications Act (2015) and if appropriate – advise in relation to the incident
  • support schools in building proactive approaches to online safety and digital citizenship

Check out our Services to Schools and Kura webpage for more information.

Resources and links

From Netsafe:

From the Ministry of Education/Netsafe:

‘Digital Technology: Safe and responsible use in schools’:

Dealing with communications

Quick Links for reporting to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Youtube:

Contact Netsafe

Contact Netsafe if you’d like further help on 0508 NETSAFE or, or the Education team