Belfast Telegraph

Social media giants must take a stand against trolls, says Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster
Threats: Gerard Traynor
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

DUP leader Arlene Foster has called on social media firms to do more to tackle online trolls.

She was speaking following the sentencing of a man who targeted her online and urged her to kill herself.

Gerard Traynor, from Oldham in Greater Manchester, also racially abused new Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Mrs Foster said sites such as Facebook and Twitter had a duty to take action, as she revealed the continued abuse had left her children very upset.

Responding to Traynor's 22-month jail term, imposed at Manchester Crown Court, Mrs Foster said: "Certainly it appears that the courts take these matters very seriously.

"That's important as it sends out a message to others who might think that there are no consequences to the words that they may put on social media.

"Of course there are consequences when people make threats and say the most awful things on the internet."

Mrs Foster has stopped looking at social media in recent years because of trolling, but said her staff inform her of any threats which should be reported to police.

She added: "That is why I don't really engage in it, because it is just so awful sometimes."

Mrs Foster revealed that Traynor's comments had made her feel uncomfortable rather than fearful.

She added: "First of all you don't know anything about these people, where they live when they are engaging with you, how close they are to you or what their capabilities are.

"All you see are the words which without any context are very concerning, particularly when they start talking about your family, which is obviously dreadful."

Mrs Foster (49) said the messages sent by Traynor had also overstepped the mark of free speech, adding: "While I do believe in free speech, what ended with this gentleman being in court obviously goes way beyond that, as you end up with very nasty threats.

"Free speech is when people have a space to disagree with your politics and what you believe in.

"People should be able to do that, but what they cannot be allowed to do is to engage in threats of this sort."

Mrs Foster said her main concerns were for her family, particularly her three children, who have been left upset in the past by the personal abuse she receives on social media.

She added: "The internet is a very dark place; obviously it has brought a lot of good in that everyone is connected nowadays, but it also brings out the worst in some people.

"It is very upsetting for my children to see such threats, as no child should have to read that sort of thing about their mother.

"I tell them that unfortunately there are some people in the world who use social media in an aggressive and a negative way, but that's not what most people are like.

"And I tell them that these are isolated incidents and they shouldn't get upset about it."

Pointing to the recent appointment of former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg as Facebook's head of global policy and communications, Mrs Foster added: "Social media companies have a responsibility to take more action against these sorts of issues and I hope that they do."

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