First Minister Arlene Foster has claimed there are “dark” forces orchestrating misogynistic social media abuse, as the broadcaster Stephen Nolan claims he has been threatened by “powerful people” who said they would turn troll on him over the stories he was reporting.
The broadcaster said the threats did not deter him in his output and he told the person making the threats to "go to hell".
The comments made by the First Minister came during a ‘Women in Media’ event held on Monday during what was International Women’s Day.
Speaking at the event, Mrs Foster claimed “dark forces” were targeting female politicians in Northern Ireland and referred to how women here were subjected to “lynch mobs”.
“The biggest obstacle to being a woman in public life today is the constant stream of commentary on your appearance,” she told the event.
“The hourly trolling and monthly idiot, who makes a ‘this is what I’d like to do to you today’ threat.
“The police have been getting better at dealing with this but let’s face it, the social media companies are more powerful than many small countries but yet they are failing to tackle these faceless trolls.”
Going beyond that, she also suggested these were coordinated instances of abuse.
“What concerns me more is the growing evidence of online lynch mobs, controlled by dark forces, who are unleashed on female public figures like a pack of lions to do as much damage as they can to the public figure and the cause they represent,” she added.
Ms Foster has in the past said someone runs her Twitter account on her behalf because of the level of abuse she receives.
On his BBC Radio Ulster show, the broadcaster Stephen Nolan said he had been threatened by “powerful people” who tried to intimidate him into covering particular stories.
“I think one of the biggest untold stories in Northern Ireland is the social media sophisticated machines that have been set up with money and organisation behind them, in order to achieve political objectives,” he said.
“You just have a cursory look at twitter and you see the abuse that Arlene and other females get. What are the social media companies doing? What are the police doing?”
“I have been threatened by powerful people in Northern Ireland to stop doing particular stories on the Nolan show or else the tap of social media abuse against me would be turned on. I was then contacted and told the circumstances the tap would be turned off again.
“I told that person to go to hell and it didn’t affect one second of our output. But do not be mistaken as to how powerful these machines are.
“It is one of the biggest untold stories in Northern Ireland...who is behind all this.”
The DUP’s Ian Paisley contacted the Nolan Show with claims that abuse he had suffered was being directed by an account ran by a journalist and that he had to get a lawyer to engage with Twitter.
Mr Nolan heard from callers who supported him and the broadcaster “challenged” what the Executive could do about the abuse.
“I would like to understand what powers the devolved administration has around social media,” he added.
The Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart, herself the subject to abuse online and called on the social media platforms to do more.
“It is horrendous what you have been subjected to Stephen and it just highlights the need for as a society and within our legal framework we need to get a grip on this,” she said.
“There needs to be an onus on these social media platforms to realise that behind accounts there is feelings and there are real people. They need to take more of a social responsibility.”