Covid 19 coronavirus: New Zealanders’ internet fears, working from home hurdles revealed in survey

As Auckland goes into its fourth lockdown, and the rest of the country returns to alert level 2, a new InternetNZ report reveals how many Kiwis are working from home, what we love and hate about it – and the hurdles to “WFH” long-term post-pandemic.

The three areas with the biggest increases in concern were:

• Children accessing inappropriate content (a significant increase from last year).
• Extremist views and hate speech.
• Wrong or misleading information.

Concerns over cyberbullying and the vulnerability of personal data were also elevated.

The spike in concern about misinformation and conspiracy theories was unsurprising after a year in which social media platforms often found it hard to police posts from anti-vaxxers energised by the pending Covid-19 vaccination rollout, unwarranted 5G fears spiked, and the US election fuelled another surge in alternative facts – if also a new level of crackdown as Facebook, Twitter and other platforms banned US President Donald Trump after his refusal to accept the legal result, and cheerleading of the Capitol riot.

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Conversely, relatively fewer than 20 per cent of us were worried about people who use the internet at lot becoming isolated, or it being a waste of time as Covid-19 remote working highlighted its upside in keeping us all connected.

Earlier, AUT computer science professor said the spike in security and personal data fears was justified by a jump in cyber-attacks during the pandemic.

Covid-19 has been something of a double-whammy for cybercrime, Parry said, with the coronavirus sending organised crime online as its traditional sources of income dry up – just as many in the workforce were moving to often poorly-secured home offices.

The top security advice remains keep all your software up-to-date, use different passwords for every site (and a password manager so you don’t have to remember all of them), consider two-factor authentication (such as a code texted to your phone) as an extra-layer of protection on top of entering a password, and always keep backups – including at least one offline backup on a hard drive, and plain old-fashioned printouts of vital documents. Never send your credit card details by email, and always double-check an invoice via phone, even if it comes from a trusted email, which can be hijacked.

A recent NetSafe report found cyberbullying is costing New Zealand $444 million per year, and the average age for seeing porn for the first time was 13 years old, which was skewing a generation’s perceptions of sex.

Tips to deal with online bullies include blocking the person concerned, setting an account to private so you can vet who views your content, complaining to the online service involved and letting a parent or teacher or NetSafe know.

NetSafe is the lead agency for the Harmful Digital Communications Act. Its chief executive Martin Cocker and his staff have good lines of communication to the likes of Facebook and Twitter and can often get cut-through if your complaint is being ignored.

Cocker’s agency has blamed lockdown stress, and simply more time spent online during lockdowns, for the jump in concern over cyberbullying.

'Perfect storm'

“Covid-19 drove a surge in online activity that reinforced the benefits of information technology alongside the challenges it presents to internet users,” Cocker told the Herald after previewing InterentNZ’s survey.

“The combination of the rapid adoption of technology, increased stress and physical separation provided a perfect storm for trouble online. The survey reflects that experience.”

So what can be done about it?

“In terms of bullying and harassment, the answer is ‘the same but more’. The Harmful Digital Communications Act and the system that it established achieves its goal of reducing harm at low (or no) cost to victims and diverts cases from the legal system,” Cocker said.

“In the last financial year, Netsafe processed 3394 HDCA reports with less than 1 per cent of reporters then choosing to progress to the District Court.”

The NetSafe boss added: “Hate speech online is a very tricky problem to address – and I am not aware of any country that has developed an effective response to it.

“However, the lessons of the HDCA can be applied. A service that prioritises voluntary resolution backed up by a prosecution option does seem to be the most effective system for reducing online harms.”

InternetNZ head Carter said there was still a power imbalance in favour of the big tech companies like Facebook.

“The future of social media should not be left to social media companies to decide — as it is now,” he said.

Dealing with inappropriate content

There are a number of tools for dealing with inappropriate content, from the Department of Internal Affairs’ DCEFS filter, which keeps a back eye on most of our internet connections, whether civil libertarians like it or not, to optional family filters offered by most internet service providers to the likes of products like Google Nest Wifi that can restrict internet access for specific devices at certain times and enforce a safe search option. If you can’t afford a filtering service, Crown agency N4L now offers one free (see box end of story).

Some 60 per cent of participants said their work could be done from home if needed.

And 51 per cent said they would like to work from home more frequently in the future.

But the wannabe work-from-homers also cite a number of hurdles including a too many-face-to-face meeting required in the office (cited as a barrier by 33 per cent), their boss imply not offering a WFH option (25 per cent) or their home internet being too slow (24 per cent).

InternetNZ chief executive Jordan Carter says a number of benefits have emerged from the forced work-from-home en masse experiment of the Covid lockdowns.

Many employers have found that Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other remote collaboration tools have worked better than they thought and productivity was maintained or even enhanced.

Auckland workers haven’t wasted an hour a day sitting in traffic.

Emissions are down.

It’s easier for caregivers to participate in the workforce.

And the lockdowns have also built resilience for future disruptions (which, yes, in Ground Hog Day fashion, have included more days in level 3).

The downsides have seen the CBD economy take a hit, the loss of the “serendipity” moments – or the gossip or insight or bonding moments when you bump into someone in the office kitchen, sometimes and skewed work-life balance, and a loss of “cultural cohesion.”

Some will be wary of remote-working too much as the end of the financial year ends and reviews and salary talks for many. The greasy pole can be harder to climb via Zoom.

AUT Professor of Human Resource Management says remote working can also make it harder for new staff, or junior staff who need more direction.

Haar points out that some bosses are now fed up with “WFH”. A case in point is Goldman Sachs chief executive David Solomon, who last week said remote working was not “the new normal” but an “aberration” that would end post-pandemic as staff hankered for personal connections.

In NZ, a number of corporates have gone in the opposite direction – notably in the telco and finance industries – moving to new office setups with fewer desks and more meeting spaces, on the assumption many staff will work from home, at least part of the week, long term.

Vodafone, for example, says it will sub-lease half its office space, on the expectation up to half its staff will be working from home, or the road, long-term.

Haar sees both perspectives. Some companies will have high-value clients who demand face-to-face meetings, or costly least offices they do not want to sit empty, he says.

But on the other hand, “There is still a war for talent,” Haar says, and “top-performing employees who prefer WFH will simply seek out such opportunities – making it a potential ‘tight rope’ for employers to manage”.

There are pros and cons, but both sides can be winners in a hybrid work week that sees some days in the office and some remote.

“I’d encourage open dialogue and understanding from both parties to ensure everyone is winning,” the HR expert says.

“I don’t think the WFH is a win/lose option. Both parties can be successful – likely through a more blended approach to work. Performance gains and employee happiness from WFH are too valuable to stop.”

The survey was carried out for InternetNZ by Colmar Brunton. The research company questioned a demographically weighted sample of 1000 people between November 16 and November 25 last year.

This is the third annual instalment of the survey, but the first to that moved from consumer-only to also include people who ran their own business.

InternetNZ is the non-profit that administers the .nz domain or our corner of the online world. It uses funds it raises from wholesaling internet addresses for education, community grants and policy work.

Where to turn for help

Four Crown-backed agencies offer advice and can connect you to the right arms of law enforcement.

NetSafe is the lead agency for the Harmful Digital Communications Act and can advocate on your behalf if you have trouble reaching Facebook, Twitter or another social media platform over a hate-speech or cyber-bullying incident

Cert NZ or the Computer Emergency Response team is the place to turn if you or your small business is hit by a cyber-attack.

• The Privacy Commissioner can advise or investigate if you think your online (or real-world) privacy is being invaded, your personal information not is not being stored securely or is being used for something other than the purpose it was collected.

Network for Learning (N4L) was set up to help schools connect to ultrafast broadband and manage their networks, but now also offers a free content-filtering tool that parents can use to wrangle devices connected to a home network.

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