It only takes a few seconds and a click of a button, but the effects can last a lifetime.
One in four New Zealand secondary school students experience some level of cyber bullying in any given 12 months according to New Zealand NetSafe research.
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It also shows 99% of all the students reported using the internet and/or mobile phones at least three or more times a week, opening themselves up to unprovoked online attacks.
One person who knows the hurtful effects of cyber bullying is Nelson’s Loren Heaphy.
She experienced a barrage of negative and slandering posts and messages while competing with husband Tom on TV3’s The Block NZ last year.
Loren has now made it one of her missions to see cyber bullying exposed in New Zealand and hopes to start more conversations to ensure it’s seen as a serious and harmful activity.
“As a person who wants everyone to like me, I struggled with these comments and focused heavily on them. I’d never experienced such personal attacks in the past and eventually I really took it to heart, wanting to defend myself and try to make these people see things from my perspective.
She says while people might only have been expressing an opinion by calling her “infertile”, “fugly” or “whiney”, she doesn’t think they considered that there was a real person behind the computer screen.
“Maybe the fact that I was on television made it seem ok to say them.
“It culminated in messages in my inbox telling me I should 'let Tom divorce me' or wondering if I asked myself why I was still alive.”
She feels that online bullying is prevalent across New Zealand for everyday Kiwis, and in particular within schools.
“Young people are often unaware of the long-term effects that come with posting negative or nasty things online. These can be found linked to their name years later and can affect their reputation with prospective employers or within their communities.”
The anti-bullying campaigner says often cyber abuse is brushed off as “not real”, or something you can just “turn off and walk away from”, however in our world of 24/7 connectivity, the online world is as real as being bullied in the schoolyard.
Loren says coming out about her experiences has been interesting as a number of people in the community have said it has helped them speak to their own children or to their staff within their businesses.
“It was ironic however that some of the online bullying started again when I came out publically about my experience as some people felt it was attention seeking and I deserved it for complaining.”
She says the best lesson she’s learnt is not to engage with the bullies as that only lights the fire and makes them even more vocal.
“I’ve learnt to compartmentalise and step away from the situation and put myself where I felt supported and loved. If need be, in situations where I couldn’t access social media.”
Loren is passionate and remains determined to educate people around thinking before they post and ridding New Zealand of cyber bullying.
For more cyber safety tips from New Zealand’s leading online companies - Staying Safe Online
Vodafone Guardian is a free Android app (standard charges apply) for mobile customers that lets you decide who can call or TXT your child, when they can use their phone and whether they can browse the web, download apps or use the camera.