First Harmful Digital Comms survey report out

Netsafe Harmful Digital Communications in New Zealand ANNUAL POPULATION SURVEY 2017Netsafe, New Zealand’s independent, non-profit online safety organisation and the Approved Agency under the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015, has released its first Harmful Digital Communications Annual Population Survey (APS). Netsafe conducted the research to gauge attitudes and behaviours and to start monitoring potentially harmful digital communications in New Zealand.

This research fills a gap – there is little robust NZ research into harmful digital communications between adults. A key focus is participants’ experiences of digital communications, including perceptions and experiences of harm and distress in the last 12 months. A representative sample of over 1,000 NZ adults responded to a 36-question online survey in June 2017, giving a maximum margin of error of ±3.1% at the 95% confidence level.

Such research not only shows problem areas – it can also also shows public mis-perceptions, and so can help reset perceived behavior norms. For example, Netsafe’s recent report on Sexting (sending nude or semi-nude videos of themselves) revealed that “9 out of 10 young people in Australia and NZ perceived that others their age engaged in these behaviours, with nearly half of them believing it happened frequently” whilst 5% actually did Sext in the last year. So only 1 in 20 (yes, still too many!) actual did what the peer group thought was “frequent behavior”.

Key Findings

Key findings from the Netsafe report, with this post author’s comments in italics:


1. New Zealanders are highly connected. 86% connect online using smartphones, 71% use laptops, 56% desktops and 52% tablets. Over 65% use 3 or more devices to access the internet. New Zealanders average around 3 hours a day online with 1 in 5 averaging more than 6 hours .

2. Nearly all New Zealanders would consider taking further action to protect themselves and others online. Yet 1 in 5 lack knowledge about how to keep safe online.

3. New Zealanders three main concerns about going online are (highest first):

  1. security (e.g. hackers, viruses, malware)
  2. privacy (e.g. loss of or stolen personal information)
  3. online material or behaviour (e.g. online bullying or trolling, fake websites)

4. While 7 in 10 have taken action to keep safe online in the last year, those who haven’t done so commonly do not know what actions to take (25%), or believe they have already done everything they can to protect themselves and others (45%).  New Zealanders tend to think the most effective way is to use protective software and to update software automatically.

I find it surprising – and alarming – that 30% have taken no action at all in the last year. Doesn’t nearly everyone get spam and phishing emails that they need to delete and (hopefully) report? 


5. The majority of New Zealanders are aware of aspects of the Harmful Digital Communications legislation and its provisions around digital communications, particularly in relation to the courts’ ability to order the removal of harmful content.

6. However, the lesser known aspects of legislation are the existence of the ten legal principles of online communication. (Listed below)

7. When introduced to the ten principles for communicating online, New Zealanders believe that the three most important are:

  1. not to encourage someone to harm themselves,
  2. not to share intimate images of someone without their permission, and
  3. not to share indecent or obscene content.


8. Almost a third of New Zealanders have experienced at least one type of unwanted digital communication in the past year. However, this includes a broad range of online experiences, from less serious (such as receiving spam) to more serious incidents (such as being stalked or threatened online), not all of which are covered by the Act.

It would be useful if future surveys were able to distinguish between broadcast digital communications and personal attacks. Broadcast spam/phishing etc. are pretty much a part of life online and should not taken personally. From the report’s statistics I suspect most respondents disregarded spam.

9. Nearly 1 in 10 (9%) of New Zealanders experienced an unwanted digital communication that had a negative impact on their daily activities. The two most common negative consequences were being unable to participate online as usual and being unable to sleep or eat properly.

This shows an alarming number of New Zealanders affected.  One third of those reporting unwanted digital communication were significantly affected by it.

10. Most experiences of unwanted digital communications occurred through an email (41%) followed by a post in one’s social media page (27%).

11. Just over a third (36%) of those who experienced an unwanted digital communication said that they were approached by a stranger. A further 16% didn’t know who sent it.

12. About a fifth (21%) of those who experienced an unwanted digital communication said that the experience was also part of a situation happening offline. Other research shows  that most of the prosecutions under the Act were partners or ex partners of the person affected. See NetHui 2017 video linked below.

13. The most common emotional reactions among those who received an unwanted digital communication were feeling angry, frustrated, and distress.

14. The greatest impact people experience is caused by digital communications that encourage someone to hurt themselves or involve the sharing of intimate images without permission. These types of communications have a greater negative impact on a person’s ability to do daily activities and take more of an emotional toll on those who receive them.


15. Most people experiencing unwanted digital communications do not contact any support service. Those who sought support in the last year tended to contact an internet service provider or platform to request the removal of content, block the person responsible or to make others aware of the issue. Half of those who sought help say the support was effective.

16. When asked to consider the support they may seek if they experience an unwanted digital communication in future, the police were most frequently considered as a primary source of support (in particular if intimate images are shared online without permission).

17. Internet service providers tend to be considered helpful in removing content, while telecommunications support is thought to be more useful when being stalked online. Most people say they would not seek any help if they were to be excluded by a peer group.

A useful survey and report that will build in value as it s repeated and trends become apparent.

If it feels like abuse, harassment and trolling are rife online – they are. One third of New Zealanders experience unwanted communications each year, and one third of them report those experiences negatively disrupting their lives.

Clearly that is not where New Zealand wants to be as a society. The findings in this study reinforce the importance of all the components of the Act. They also reflect the importance of us all working together – as an online safety community – to reduce online harm while encouraging New Zealanders to take up the opportunities that digital technologies bring.

Martin Cocker, Netsafe CEO

More information

Read or download the 2018 NetSafe “Harmful Digital Communications in New Zealand: Annual Population Survey” on

Video of presentation at NetHui 2017 by Auckland University and Netsafe on Harmful Digital Communications Act (go to this page and chose 2nd video from Stream 3. Upper NZI 5 room, Friday, Nov 10 from 11:15am – 3:30pm NZDT; watch from 49 mins in)

The ten digital communication principles

A digital communication should:

  1. not disclose sensitive personal facts about an individual
  2. not be threatening, intimidating, or menacing
  3. not be grossly offensive to a reasonable person in the position of the affected individual
  4. not be indecent or obscene
  5. not be used to harass an individual
  6. not make a false allegation
  7. not contain a matter that is published in breach of confidence
  8. not incite or encourage anyone to send a message to an individual for the purpose of causing harm to the individual
  9. not incite or encourage an individual to commit suicide
  10. not denigrate an individual by reason of his or her colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability

The principles in bold are the ones survey respondents felt were the most important.

Download NetSafe and CERTNZ’s Safer Internet Day guide

Download Netsafe’s recent report on Sexting (sending nude or semi-nude videos of themselves)