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Netsafe predicting influx of online harm incidents

File photo.

New Zealand’s online safety organisation is anticipating calls to its helpline to skyrocket as the country heads into its second weekend at Alert Level 4.

“Everybody is using the internet more frequently during this period,” says Martin Cocker, Netsafe CEO. “The more we use the internet, the more we’re exposed to online risks and challenges.”

Cocker says while being online keeps us connected with loved ones and ensures the community can continue learning, working and being entertained, “we also know this a time criminals try to exploit individuals and a time when frustrations boil over online”.

Netsafe is already seeing incident reports increasing as it did during New Zealand’s March – April 2020 Alert Level 4 Lockdown.

When that period was compared to the same time a year before, scam reports were up 74 per cent, sextortion 35 per cent and romance scams 69 per cent.

During last year’s Lockdown, Cocker says Netsafe was inundated with requests from people needing support with a wide range of issues, including online bullying, misinformation, threatening behaviour, and hate speech.

“As the country works to stamp out Covid-19, Netsafe is helping people to keep safe and stamp out online harm from their lives. There is enough happening right now without people dealing with being bullied, ripped off or harassed.”

Reports to Netsafe about intimidation during the 2020 Lockdown increased by 45 per cent and the supply and distribution of objectionable content by 66 per cent.

Netsafe research into 2020’s Lockdown reveals the number of individuals experiencing unwanted digital communications – including being threatened or intimidated – increased.

In the three months before Lockdown, of those who experienced unwanted digital communications, 45 per cent were encouraged to try and hurt themselves. This increased to 65 per cent in the three months.

Similarly, 41 per cent experienced offensive comments about their lifestyle or religious beliefs before Lockdown, but this increased to 54 per cent during or after the period.

Netsafe is available seven days to provide expert incident advice and can provide advice about how the Harmful Digital Communications Act may apply to their situation.

The service is free, confidential and non-judgemental - translation options are also available. People can call 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723) or visit netsafe.org.nz for self-help advice.

Last Lockdown, demand for Netsafe’s online resources shot up by 167 per cent as people looked for tips on what they could do themselves to have more positive experiences and protect their personal information.

Netsafe also saw a 155 per cent increase in parents seeking help with online issues for their families. Cocker says this time round, a range of tools have been added to Netsafe’s stable of resources for whānau once again getting used to home-schooling and kids spending more time on screens.

The Online Safety Parent Toolkit, can be used as a stand-alone resource or in conjunction with the TikTok Family Safety Toolkit and its Online Gaming Whānau Toolkit.

In addition, Netsafe’s Staying Safe Online Guide can be downloaded. The easy-to-understand handbook helps everyone – including seniors – have better online experiences across many platforms and provides tips to avoid scams and deal with bullying and harassment.

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