A new study shows around one in 10 New Zealanders say they have shared a potentially harmful digital communication, with most doing so 'for a joke'.
Netsafe asked 1150 Kiwis in a range of demographics about their online communications and the reasons why they sent harmful messages.
The research was released on Tuesday to coincide with Safer Internet Day, where companies, schools and not-for-profits around the world educate their staff and students about how to stay safe online.
It found that 11 percent of participants admitted to sending at least one potentially harmful digital communication in the last year. Of those, nearly 80 percent had sent more than one.
The most common reason harmful digital communications were sent was "for a joke" (28 percent), followed by "to influence behaviour or thoughts" (14 percent), "to scare" (8 percent) and "to embarrass" (6 percent).
Other reasons were to exclude someone from a group of friends to make a sexual advance.
Netsafe found that most Kiwis share harmful communications via text (39 percent) followed by social media (34 percent) and email (20 percent).
Netsafe counts harmful digital communication as:
- Physically threatened someone
- Attempted to get someone excluded from a friendship group
- Tried to embarrass someone online
- Said offensive things about someone (e.g. the way they look, how they behave, or what they believe in)
- Included violent or sexual content
- Was a false statement about someone’s personal or professional life
- Was a sexual advance toward someone that you were not sure was wanted (e.g. messages about sex, naked selfie, images or video live stream)
- Involved regularly monitoring someone’s online activity in order to influence their behaviour or thoughts
- Shared intimate images or recordings of someone without their permission
- Encouraged other people to send hurtful messages to someone else
Netsafe CEO Martin Cocker said Netsafe is working to help people who have been the recipient of deliberate abuse and also assist people who didn't intend to hurt others.
"It is important to see deliberate offenders prosecuted, but also to provide ways people can reverse harm that they may have accidentally caused," he said.
Digital security company Avast is urging parents to ensure their children approach online communications with caution.
Spokesperson Luis Corrons says they should be encouraged to avoid sharing personal information, keep passwords secret and learn where privacy settings are and use them.
"These topics should be ongoing conversations with your children. Check in on their digital life as you check in on their (school) day and other aspects of their lives. Show them this is an area of serious concern, but one that can be easily managed with proper online habits, smart choices, and good communication."