Netsafe has released a new report prepared by Sense Partners, estimating the societal costs of cyber-bullying in New Zealand at $444m a year. Netsafe must be congratulated on attempting to quantify the harm caused by cyber-bullying; this is a pretty challenging, if not impossible task! The authors of the report do explain how they arrived at this figure, including the personal cost and the cost of interventions, but excluding long term health and productivity impacts. By far the largest component (nearly 80%) is based on the cost of time for family and friends to support someone who has been cyber-bullied. A much smaller cost (less than 1%) is based on the loss of life.
While there will be differences of opinion about how the costs are calculated, what is less likely to be debated are the disturbing facts:
- 31% of those experiencing or witnessing cyber-bullying do not seek help
- 46% of 18-19 year olds have experienced cyber-bullying
- 64% New Zealanders are concerned about the impact of cyber-bullying on society in general
- Cyber-bullying raises the risk of self-harm or suicidal behaviour 2.3 times (not reported in the Netsafe study but based on research involving 150,000 under 25’s across 30 countries over a 21-year period – Journal of Medical Research, 2018)
Trust in the internet is one of the four cornerstones of digital inclusion; the prevalence and damaging impact of cyber-bullying provides a compelling reason to stay off-line. But this would be no better than burying our heads in the sand and hoping we won’t be seen.
The Netsafe report does suggest some practical interventions and these should be core components of a national digital inclusion agenda:
- Destigmatise seeking help;
- Invest in curriculum for schools;
- Raise awareness of cyber-bulling and where to seek help;
- International coordination of legislation and enforcement of cyber-bullying.