‘Everybody has the right to express themselves’

September 1, 2021

Internet safety watchdog Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker says there is recourse for people being harassed online under the Harmful Digital Communications Act (2015).

Martin Cocker
Martin Cocker

“Everybody has the right to express themselves,” he said. “If she’s been harassed off a platform she used and enjoyed, that is not acceptable and that is harmful.”

Legal options ranged from civil remedies such as an apology and removing content, to criminal such as fines and imprisonment. However, Twitter was such a fast-moving space that conversations had often moved on by the time any action was taken – which also risked re-igniting the conflict, he said.

While “disproportionate” reactions were part of an online environment, harassment, threats and the release of personal details were offences under the Act.

Cocker understood Hughes’ decision to abandon Twitter, but did not want to see people silenced. “We have to look out for ourselves. There is some truth that by not sharing an opinion, she would not have got the blowback… But [keeping quiet] is not something we want to promote.”

Nurses, like anyone, had the freedom to express their views, providing they were not harming someone else.

“There is a difference between expressing your view and doing something offensive online,” he said.

For support or guidance go to netsafe.org.nz or 0508 638 723 or email help@netsafe.org.nz.