Staying safe online

Issue: Volume 99, Number 6

Posted: 15 April 2020
Reference #: 1HA71x

With distance learning now in place in Aotearoa, most learners are dependent on virtual connections, which makes cyber safety of paramount importance. Education Gazette asks online safety organisation Netsafe about how students can be supported to stay safe online.

As the nation retreated into lockdown, teachers, families and whānau were focused on reminding children and young people how to stay physically safe. Now that we’re getting used to staying at home, social distancing and washing our hands, it's time to focus on how to keep our children and young people safe online as well.   

Schools and kura have an important role to play in supporting learners to have safe and positive online interactions. They are well positioned to be proactively working with learners and their families and whānau about digital safety.   

Online safety organisation Netsafe has emphasised the need to be mindful of protecting ourselves online during this time when the use of digital tools to communicate and interact with one another is significantly higher than usual.  

“Reports from around the world indicate there has been an increase in abuse and harassment online due to COVID-19,” says Martin Cocker, Netsafe chief executive.   

“It’s a good time to remind people of their rights and responsibilities under the Harmful Digital Communications Act,” – that it’s illegal for anyone to send or publish threatening, offensive or sensitive material and spread damaging rumours.  

The principles of safe and appropriate digital communication  

According to the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015, a digital communication should not:  

  • disclose sensitive personal facts about an individual   
  • be threatening, intimidating or menacing   
  • be grossly offensive to a reasonable person in the position of the affected individual   
  • be indecent or obscene   
  • be used to harass an individual   
  • make a false allegation   
  • contain a matter that is published in breach of confidence   
  • incite or encourage anyone to send a message to an individual for the purpose of causing harm to the individual   
  • incite or encourage an individual to commit suicide   
  • denigrate an individual by reason of his or her colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.  

There can be serious consequences for breaches of the Act, including a prison term or significant fine, and it is important that everyone is aware of this. Teachers can keep these principles in mind as they support children and young people to build their understanding of safe and positive digital citizenship through their daily interactions online.  

Cyber bullying  

Online bullying (also known as cyber bullying) is when a person uses digital technology to send, post or publish content with the intention to harm another person or a group. This behaviour is often aggressive, is repeated, and involves some kind of power imbalance between the people involved. According to Netsafe(external link), online bullying can take many forms like:  

  • name calling  
  • repeated unwanted messages  
  • spreading rumours or lies  
  • fake accounts used to harass people  
  • excluding people from social activities  
  • embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.  

Information and support for staying safe online  

The Netsafe website offers lots of useful tools and resources to help stay safe online. These can be used by teachers, families and whānau, and include:  

Information about bullying and where to get help  

The Bullying Free NZ website(external link) has lots of useful guidance, resources and tools for schools(external link) to use to prevent and respond to bullying behaviours, including cyber bullying(external link). The website also has a section for parents, families and whānau(external link), which includes guides, tips, and how to get help.  

Working with whānau   

Netsafe research tells us that most parents appreciate support from schools regarding online safety information.   

“Permanent and open dialogue with parents will provide schools with a better idea of the type of information and resources parents need, which can help them to build closer relationships with their children. Further, the important role of peers in supporting each other with online issues suggests that teachers and parents need to work together with young people to build a mutually supporting network that is based on trusted relationships.  

“We encourage adults to have open conversations with young people about the responsibility that goes along with ownership of a connected device, such as:   

  • what to do if they’re being bullied 
  • basic safety such as friending and communicating with people you don’t know 
  • not sharing information that should be kept confidential or may be used to bully or embarrass you later on, sexting photos or abusive texts, for example.”


  1. Do a stocktake: Assess how many devices in your house connect to the internet to understand where the risks are and start to mitigate them.   
  2. Assess new technology: Investigate new apps or platforms by checking out T&Cs, reviews and minimum age requirements before using them.   
  3. Secure your virtual house: Use strong passwords, update your software and use two-factor authentication(external link) where possible.   
  4. Share your experience: Talk to your friends and family about the technologies you use and let them know your tips and tricks to eliminate risk.   
  5. Combat misinformation: Guide people to official information sources like link) for the latest advice.   
  6. See something, say something: If you see suspicious or criminal activity online, report it. If you don’t know where to report, visit link) for help.   
  7. Practise safe clicking: COVID-19 is being used as a lure so be careful clicking on links, attachments or ads from unknown sources as they might be hiding malware.   
  8. Protect your info: Criminals are harvesting personal information. Stop and think carefully about the details you disclose or whether they need to be entered online.   
  9. Have fun: Explore the technologies available to help you connect, learn, stay informed and participate in Aotearoa’s new virtual society.   
  10. Help others: Share your online safety tips and experiences using the #stayconnectedstaysafe hashtag to help others. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 3:01 pm, 15 April 2020

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