Netsafe welcomes Twitter crackdown on sexual posts

10:10 am on 20 October 2017

A promised crackdown on sexual harassment by social media giant Twitter has been welcomed by New Zealand organisations who regularly deal with complaints online.

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Last week, Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey sent out a series of tweets indicating the company planned to act more aggressively against bullies and harassers on its website.

It has now set out new guidelines on behaviour, which includes instant and permanent suspensions of any account Twitter identified as the original source of non-consensual nudity or sexual advances.

The definition of non-consensual nudity will also be expanded to include "up skirt imagery", "creep shots," and "hidden camera content".

The tougher stance has been welcomed by Netsafe New Zealand.

Chief executive Martin Cocker said they were dealing with dozens of harassment complaints on a regular basis.

"Netsafe handles about 50 cases of what's called harmful digital communications each week, a significant proportion of those involve some form of sexual harassment of gender-based harassment."

Mr Cocker said the Twitter platform in particular faced its own unique challenges.

"A lot of anonymity or pseudo-anonymity. There's also a culture that's built up which Twitter describes as dog piling, when everybody piles in on one person they've decided is out of line."

However, Mr Cocker said the social media site had been working hard to tackle the issue, seeking advice from Netsafe and others who are part of the company's Trust and Safety Council.

University of Canterbury's Dean of Law Professor Ursula Cheer said new guidelines could mean less cases of individuals needing to use legislation, such as the Harmful Communications Act, to address online harassment.

"At the moment Netsafe applies the Harmful Digital Communications Act and looks for what is harmful. Having Twitter also trying to remove material before it is shown will obviously or perhaps lessen the work of bodies like Netsafe," he said.

Professor Cheer said online corporations were realising it is bad business to do nothing about online harassment.

"They've been under an awful lot of pressure about this generally and are starting to admit they're like other media companies in the sense that they do have some responsibility about the content that they're publishing," she said.

However, Gender Equal New Zealand spokesperson Vanisa Dhiru said sexual harassment now came in many forms, and across many platforms.

"Sexual harassment can be anything from an unsolicited picture, email, explicit Snapchat, message or comments. I don't think New Zealand necessarily knows how big of an issue it is."

Ms Dhiru said she welcomes any measures from social media sites which lower the instances of harassment.