There is a lot of talk about online bullying – but what is online bullying and why is it different than other types of bullying?

What does online bullying look like?

Online bullying can be private (e.g. in direct messages or by text) or more public (e.g. public posts, or in a closed or public group). Online bullying is when someone does things online to another person to cause them fear, distress or another negative emotion – they are doing it on purpose and it’s not just a once-off thing.

Here’s what online bullying can look like:

  • Trying to embarrass someone
  • Calling someone names
  • Spreading rumours and lies
  • Spreading private information about someone
  • Using fake accounts to make fun of someone
  • Meme pages that embarrass someone
  • Repeatedly sending you unwanted messages
  • Purposefully excluding people from online groups, chats, events etc.
  • Hacking or impersonating someone else online

Bullying isn’t banter between mates. True banter or ‘roasting’ isn’t meant to shame, upset or offend someone or make them feel uncomfortable. Having a laugh with your friends is a normal part of most friendships.

How is online bullying different than other types of bullying?

There are a few differences with online bullying. Here are some examples:

  • Things online can be shared with a lot of people very quickly
  • Photos, images, messages and other things online can stay up online
  • The bullying can happen anytime which can make it feel like it’s hard to get away from it
  • People can use anonymous accounts to bully, so it’s difficult to tell who is doing it

You can report upsetting content online to the platform it’s on (e.g. social media or gaming platform) or ask us for advice on if you’re able to get it removed – free text ‘Netsafe’ to 4282 or free phone 0508 NETSAFE.

Can people get in trouble for bullying?

There is a law in New Zealand called the Harmful Digital Communications Act that has been created to help people who are being targeted online by others. Some types of bullying is covered by this law. The law also covers other things like encouraging people to take their own life (this is illegal in New Zealand) and sharing nude or nearly nude images/photos without the consent of the person in it.

What to do if you’re being bullied online

What to do if a friend is being bullied online

  • Reach out and make sure that they’re OK
  • Don’t try to “get back” at the bully – this could make things worse
  • Help your friend take screenshots or keep URLs of the bullying
  • Report it to the platform that it’s on (e.g. the social media or gaming platform)
  • Contact Netsafe for advice about what else to do
  • Read our full advice for helping a friend with bullying

Have you been the bully?

Maybe while you’ve been reading this you’ve realised that you’ve done some things online that might have been hurtful to someone else. It’s never too late to make something right – we have advice for people around what to do if you’ve said or done something online that you now regret.

More information and advice around online bullying

Contact Netsafe

If you need online safety help or advice, you can contact us seven days a week. Our service is free and confidential.

  • Free text ‘Netsafe’ to 4282
  • Email help@netsafe.org.nz
  • Call us toll free on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723)
  • Online report form at netsafe.org.nz/report

Our helpline is open from 8am – 8pm Monday to Friday and 9am – 5pm on weekends.