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Grieving Fiona Donohoe gets Twitter warning for highlighting vile threat about son Noah


Fiona Donohoe and her son Noah (Family handout/PA)

Fiona Donohoe and her son Noah (Family handout/PA)

Fiona Donohoe and her son Noah (Family handout/PA)

Grieving mum Fiona Donohoe has been given a warning by Twitter after she highlighted a vile threat she received about her son Noah.

It comes just days after Diane Dodds revealed a troll had targeted her on the social media site recently in a sick message about son Andrew, who died in 1998.

That incident is now the subject of a PSNI investigation and Twitter has suspended the account which sent the message to former Economy Minister Diane.

Last night the PSNI contacted gardaí for assistance after it emerged they believe Dodds' troll is based in the Republic.

Fiona, who is still desperately seeking answers about the final hours of 14-year-old Noah who was found dead in a storm drain in north Belfast in June 2020, warned her Twitter followers her account might be suspended after she shared the sick threat she received.

She later revealed Twitter had contacted her about the revolting message, sent from an English IP address.

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"I do wonder why Chief Constable never found my Tweets extremely worrying. I do," she wrote.

"My account may be taken down just for being honest. I have had a warning on this post, but truth."

Female politicians in Northern Ireland, including the DUP's Carla Lockhart and Sorcha Eastwood of Alliance, have spoken out previously about the regular attacks they have to endure from online trolls, including rape threats.

Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was murdered by the IRA in 1984, has also been trolled with vicious abuse for speaking out about her family's ordeal, and Sunday World journalist Patricia Devlin has been fighting for police action on sick threats against her family, including her infant son.

Arlene Foster, whose children were trolled when she was DUP leader, is campaigning for tighter controls from social media companies.

But targeting bereaved mothers still grieving for their sons is a new low.

Cybersecurity expert Philip Ingham, a former NATO intelligence officer from Tyrone who now monitors the social media sites of terror groups like Isis and Al-Qaeda, said more prosecutions were needed to deter the keyboard tyrants.

The Online Safety Bill, due to go through Westminster this year, has proposed multi-million-pound fines for social media giants and prison terms of up to two years for individuals who cause psychological harm.

Expert Philip, chairman of Global Intelligence Insight, has researched targeted campaigns against politicians in Northern Ireland funded by paramilitaries and organised crime gangs, but said the latest attacks on Diane Dodds and Fiona Donohoe are most likely solo strikes.

"What we have got here are sad lonely idiots who feel as if they can hide behind anonymity.

"They don't care how they offend normal moralities.

"There is a troll-fest going on where people are outside the norms of what you would think, never mind say.

"They are emboldened by the fact that the chances of prosecution are minuscule. A few rapid prosecutions would help to deter people."

Since 2011 there have been just 12 convictions for trolling in Northern Ireland.

Police resources are usually cited for the slow response to cyber threats. The tortuous process also involves different jurisdictions, and the speed of developments on online platforms often means the trolls have moved on to new victims within hours.

Ann Travers has been targeted by 'pop-up' accounts which hurl as much abuse as possible before they can be blocked, and then immediately disappear.

Social media companies also fail to understand the political nature of threats.

"Someone on Twitter sitting in California in the sunshine doesn't understand the wider political nuances of what has happened to the Dodds family," said Philip.

"That's about to change, with UK-specific laws. They are currently governed by the Computer Misuse Act of 1990, but these companies didn't exist in 1990.

"The new bill will make it much easier to compel social media companies to make sure their stuff is policed. However, I don't think that will deter the idiots.

"From a personal perspective I don't understand why users are allowed to have truly anonymous accounts. It's perfectly easy to allow people to register with a pseudonym but have their real details."

His advice to users who are attacked by trolls is to report the account to the social media company, block or mute the account, and don't engage.

"If you have got people who normally come to your defence also ask them not to engage.

"It's like the bully in the playground. If you don't engage with them, they will move on to someone else.

"The internet is the playground for us all now."

He's investigating the use of trolling as a service, which can be bought like any other. Radio host Stephen Nolan has spoken of threats to unleash co-ordinated campaigns of abuse against him, which can be turned on and off, if he covers certain topics.

"You can buy trolling. Like any form of cyber attack, it can be used as a service," said the expert.

"There is so much going on that people don't realise is happening."

Following her complaint to Twitter, MLA Diane Dodds welcomed the company's action against the troll who targeted her, after it initially said the comment about her son, who died aged eight, had not broken its rules.

"Twitter have finally lived up to their responsibilities and suspended the account which had dedicated itself to vile and depraved online attacks," she said.

"I have been truly humbled and touched by the groundswell of support and encouragement from across Northern Ireland and I have no doubt that the universal revulsion at these disgraceful actions forced Twitter to act."

Former MLA Anna Lo also revealed last week that anonymous online abuse was a factor in her decision to leave politics after nine years in 2016.

Anna, whose party leader Naomi Long has been the target of vicious troll attacks, revealed the worst examples were pornographic pictures of Asian women which associated brothels with her name.

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