Belfast Telegraph

Vile online abuse of politicians pitiable

Editor's Viewpoint

One of the unfortunate, though sadly predictable, results of the recent election is the abuse meted out to the former Ulster Unionist MLA Jenny Palmer.

In 2015 she switched from the DUP to the UUP and won a Lagan Valley seat in last May's Assembly election, but she lost it last week.

The campaign was predicted to be brutal, and proved to be one of the ugliest in a generation, with harsh things said on many sides.

In times past the heckling of candidates during the hustings was a time-honoured tradition of British politics, but this seems almost quaint by comparison to the abuse heaped on politicians on the social media of today.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that these so-called internet trolls take particular delight in attacking and tormenting female politicians.

Former First Minister Arlene Foster has spoken of the effect this kind of abuse has had on her and her family.

No doubt there are other women in public life who have been similarly affected by such relentless abuse from those who hide behind anonymity to make their point.

It is difficult enough for women to make their voices heard in the public arena without these hurtful and personal attacks making their job as a public representative even more difficult.

It is also worth noting that many male politicians have been experiencing similar abuse on social media.

There is no doubt that politics is a rough business for all those involved.

But this does not excuse those individuals who use social media to vent their hatred on others.

Mrs Palmer's response to the nauseous attacks directed at her has been an admirable example to others of the best way to deal with this vile and unwarranted criticism.

She said: "It has boosted my resolve to remain in politics, and to campaign for tougher laws to bring the internet trolls before the courts."

She is also right in emphasising that the entire community would benefit from tougher protection against these ruthless online bullies.

Mrs Palmer has reported the abuse to the police, who must do all they can in making the grisly individuals behind this peculiarly 21st century scourge amenable to the full rigour of the law.

Politicians will always have their critics, but they should not be subjected to the savage abuse which Mrs Palmer has experienced.

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