A DUP MP has called for action to be taken by social media platforms to combat abuse against women online.
Speaking during a parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall chaired by the DUP MP Ian Paisley, the Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart suggested there should be “verification” introduced to tackle online abuse, particularly directed towards women in public life.
The DUP politician has regularly spoken out against abuse directed towards females, calling it “bullying”, while her party leader – Arlene Foster – has previously suggested there are “dark forces” directing misogynistic abuse and threats towards women in Northern Ireland.
Mrs Foster said female politicians were subjected to “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.”
Addressing the chamber on Tuesday, Carla Lockhart told MPs that they “should recognise that women across public life are being bombarded by abuse on a daily basis. Whether that is journalists, police officers or politicians.”
Calling them “mobs”, she also suggested that social media platforms “permit” anonymous accounts and called for a system which introduced “verified accounts” in order that platforms knew the “true identity” of users.
“Such lynch mobs exist to spread misinformation and destabilise their opponents. Their existence is to be condemned and those who sponsor the mass trolling of women in public office must be exposed and condemned,” she added.
“Whilst in Northern Ireland we have redress through defamation actions, we must first identify the troll and then it is slow, very costly and the threshold for success is high.
“Finally, online abuse directed at females is serious because in my experience it is like an addiction where the addict needs a monthly fix, then a weekly fix and eventually an hourly fix.
“Sadly, as the abuse gets more regular it also gets more poisonous.
“We need to send a stern message to those poisoning the public space, that they cannot abuse with impunity."