Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Dodds urges action to tame 'wild west' of internet trolling

By Staff Reporter

Nigel Dodds has called for steps to be taken to end the "wild west culture of anything goes" on social media.

The DUP deputy leader made the comments during Prime Minister's Questions.

It came after party leader Arlene Foster and colleague Carla Lockhart were subjected to vicious trolling about their appearances over the weekend.

The incident started after Mrs Foster posted a selfie of herself with the Upper Bann MLA at the Erne West DUP dinner on Friday.

Many of the abusive tweets were later deleted.

Afterwards, a number of local politicians from across the spectrum offered their support for the bullied pair and spoke out about the abuse they had received online.

"There have been a number of examples of the kind of vile online abuse suffered by female politicians over recent days," Mr Dodds told Prime Minister's Questions.

"In Parliament, the anti-Semitic abuse faced by some MPs was highlighted very movingly during yesterday's debate, whilst cruel and misogynistic abuse has also been in focus within Northern Ireland.

"The issue must be tackled head-on and steps taken to bring social media platforms to account and end the wild west culture of anything goes."

Mr Dodds stressed that the law needed to adapt to changes in technology.

"The Prime Minister rightly recognised the extent of the problem and I am glad there is a focus within government about the issue of liability for these companies," he said.

"The methods of communication have changed over recent years and it is vital that the law keeps pace with such developments and people recognise they can and will face sanction for their actions online."

Mrs May said the government was continuing to work with social media firms and insisted that "good work has been done with them on a number of aspects such as child abuse". She added: "We are also looking at the issue of liability for social media companies.

"They are not publishers, but on the other hand they are not just platforms, and we are looking at that issue urgently."

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph earlier this week, Mrs Lockhart said she hoped that speaking out against trolls would deter people from following that path.

"No one should be subjected to abuse online whether that be about their appearance or because of their political views," she wrote.

"From my experience, this bullying is done under a political cloak. No motivation is acceptable. It is wrong. So what can be done?

"The social media platforms need to tackle this head-on. They need to ensure that the account holder has a verified identity.

"Social media is like the wild west at its worst. Many accounts are fake. One person can have multiple accounts to enable them to systematically abuse people. It needs policed.

"Another step would be for the criminal justice system to raise awareness of the penalties for stepping over the line and, more importantly, the impact that online bullying and trolling has on lives.

"If raising this issue makes one person stop before they send an abusive message online, then it has been worthwhile."

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