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Online harassment takes many forms, and the impacts are wide-ranging

Between September and and November 2018 we conducted an online survey to gather New Zealanders’ stories of online harassment.

We asked 12 questions covering the context of the abuse, the platform, and the abuser. We had 69 in depth responses from around New Zealand.

Responses detailed a wide-range of forms of abuse: bullying and harassment from ex-partners, abuse that carried over from in person relationships, anonymous harassers, communities targeting individuals online and organised campaigns of harassment.

“They looked at my profile to check my home town then threatened to come "kick my teeth in" as they live 30 minutes away.”

“Some people have singled me out for abuse during some topics because I am male, some because I am Māori, some others because I am also NZ European and "sexual assault can't happen to a male."

“It was a group of people and it was definitely organised. They told us as much. They had a forum of some kind where they'd decide who would be their victim and coordinate their attacks to do as much damage as possible.”

“On one occasion it was an organised attack, I got hundreds of twitter @s for tweeting about women's clothes often not having proper pockets being everyday sexism and got RTed by a hate account that specifically targets a few people who use the hashtag everyday, with their followers then sending abuse.”

The abuse takes place across the web in comments on blogs, in emails, group messages and in videos. Social media was mentioned as the platform where it took place most often, with Facebook mentioned more than any other platform. It’s worth noting that Facebook is the second most popular website in New Zealand after Google.

The negative impacts on people as a result of online abuse are also wide-ranging:

In our UMR survey results we found that one in four Māori (26%), one in three Asian (33%) and one in three Pacific (34%) people had lower self esteem and/or a loss of confidence as a result of online harassment.

Almost two in ten Māori (19%) and Pacific (18%) people, and one in three Asian (34%) reported a feeling of powerlessness in their ability to respond to the abuse or harassment.

Most who faced harassment changed their behaviour because of it. One in three Asian people (36%) used social media less as a result of the abuse. Almost one in three Pacific people (30%) made their accounts private while 14% of Māori stopped posting content that expressed their views. The abuse was reported to happen most often on Facebook, the most popular social network amongst those surveyed and in the country.

“I post less and less about personal things and wish to talk to or socialise with other people less. I often refuse to admit how I really am to people out of fear that it will be used against me for other peoples personal gain.”