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Responding to digital incidents

As well as reviewing this advice on responding to digital incidents, please make sure that you follow the current processes set out by your school (including bullying policies).

The end goal in responding to digital incidents is to ensure the wellbeing and safety of those involved and preventing further harm.

It’s important to remember that the focus should be on the behaviours behind the online incident and not just the technology or content produced.

The principles that guide how schools respond to digital incidents are to:

  • minimise student / staff distress or harm
  • maintain student / staff safety
  • focus on the behaviours – not the technology
  • follow school processes regarding student consent and confidentiality

When an incident arises it can impact senior leadership and pastoral teams and also front-line teaching staff who may be alerted to an online incident or be supporting a student with an incident.

The school’s usual disciplinary or behaviour management practices apply and schools have the authority to act even if the incident has taken place outside of school.

It’s important to make sure that your students are supported and have avenues to talk about how the incident may be affecting them. Your students’ experience may be distressing, and we encourage them to talk to someone they trust or to reach out for further support. They can contact Youthline on free text 234 or call 0800 376 633 to talk to a confidential counsellor.

If you decide that it’s appropriate to reach out to parents and whānau, or if parents or whānau approach the school about the video, they may find the following resources useful:

With the exception of objectionable content such as child sexual abuse material, it is generally helpful for a school to document the content or communications they are concerned about. This is especially helpful if you are considering making an incident report to us. See the evidence section below for more advice on how to do this.

Our Responding to Digital Incidents Guide is a quick reference guide to you to support affected students and staff with harmful digital communications events. 

It helps you to understand, assess, resolve, and plan ahead when responding to incidents and you can also use the guide when reviewing and updating existing school processes that apply to the use of digital devices and online spaces for learning.

The guide outlines first actions and considerations, including:

  • Gathering of facts to determine what has happened and who is involved
  • Supporting those involved
  • Recording all details of the incident
  • Determining the nature and legality of the content
  • Knowing the ‘Must Do’s’, and the ‘Don’ts’
  • Contacting those who need to know and organisations who can support and advise
  • Communicating as necessary with those who need to know

With the exception of objectionable content such as child sexual abuse material, it is generally helpful for you to document the content or communications you are concerned about. This is especially helpful if you are considering making an incident report to us.

We have put together some simple instructions on digital content records to explain for how you can capture this information.

In order to progress a report, our team will ask for:

  • A description and timeline of the incident
  • Copies of the content
  • The URL/website address and/or username/account that has posted the content
  • Names of the individuals involved

In New Zealand, any digital content or communication is objectionable if it “describes, depicts or expresses, or otherwise deals with matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good.”

All objectionable material is banned. A person could have committed an offence if, for example, they collect or view online images of sexual conduct involving children.

(Relevant legislation: Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, Section 123 & 131)

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) investigates and sometimes prosecutes people who deliberately collect objectionable material and find ways to distribute it to other people via the internet. Occasionally, the nature of the internet can lead to somebody viewing objectionable material by accident. This is one reason why searching a device or requesting digital content to be forwarded to a teacher or authorised staff member is not advisable.

We can escalate such content incidents for you at your request, if you are unsure how to handle it.

Where an incident at a school could involve for example, explicit content of a person under the age of 18, this type of content is considered objectionable in New Zealand. It is important to keep in mind the following while handling such an incident:

Do not

  • Store copies of this content
  • Ask the young person to provide you with copies of this content
  • Send this content to Netsafe or any other party

However, there is other information that you can provide Netsafe that will help us with handling this report:

  • URLs/links to where the content is hosted if it is online
  • Usernames or other identifying information about who may have requested or shared this material
  • Screenshots of any text-based message that may accompany the intimate images e.g. a message from someone requesting an image, or a comment on an image that has been posted online. Do not screenshot or share screenshots if any of the intimate content can be seen

If there is no other information that you can provide when contacting us, just let us know.