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How to deal with an online bully

… exactly as you would a bully IRL, ignore him/her/*insert gender-appropriate terminology* and take active steps to protect yourself (in case they are really unhinged).

Last weekend, a group of self-proclaimed though unnamed ‘online activists’ went live with an open-source database revealing personal and property ownership information belonging to every property owner in Aotearoa. Obstensibly their purpose is to empower tenants by ‘unveiling’ property owners and making their personal information readily available. We think otherwise. Their mission statement is clearly classist dog-whistling that gives permission for, if not promote, harassment and intimidation of those who own properties. This is mass online bullying at its purest.

We understand that many in our community are, quite rightfully, upset. Landlords are being continuously denigrated and casually dehumanised by popular culture; it is disturbing and problematic, to say the least. The lack of call-outs, leadership and efforts to restore common decency by those in a position of power who have the ears of these bullies is as disappointing as it is unsurprising.

Still, we rather focus on what we can do with the influence we have to progress our community in the right direction. Our intent is to act appropriately, deliberately and in the interest of our members. As it is a developing situation, we are open-minded about reviewing and changing our approach.

This is how we are handling the situation so far:

  1. Have productive conversations with LINZ and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to ascertain that they are broadly aligned with our view that the website is problematic and can do harm + communicate our stake in their handling of the matter and ask to be kept in the loop. They are, and we will be.
  2. Urge anyone who believes themselves to have suffered serious harm (and by ‘serious harm’ we mean a lot more than just hurt feelings) by the content on the website to make a formal complaint to the OPC.
  3. Urge anyone who considers that the site has breached their right to privacy to progress towards a formal complaint to the OPC by following these steps. Your first port of call is the people/organisation behind the site. No need to go to it to extract their contact details (see below), click here to email them.
  4. Actively encouraging members and others in the property community to not directly or indirectly drive traffic to the site. In this day and age, web traffic, SEO and trending topics all give the illusion of validation. Though the landlord cohort is not big enough to nix all the traffic to the site, we certainly don’t need to help it. Our rambly-esque explanation here. PLEASE HELP US SPREAD THE WORD (irony!)

Given that the people behind the website clearly intend to incite and have little regard for property owners’ personal safety, if you genuinely believe you have suffered harm, please follow the above steps to make a formal complaint to the OPC. The volume of legitimate complaints, we expect, will be proportional to the continued seriousness with which the OPC treats this matter.

In the meantime, we continue to encourage landlords to prioritise flood and cyclone remediation, look after their tenants and focus on returning to business as usual asap.

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