Tougher online rules urged after members of DUP and SF trolled
A newly-elected MP has called on social media companies to clamp down on online abuse, after two Northern Ireland politicians were targeted with vile messages.
Carla Lockhart said people would be dissuaded from entering public life unless the problem of online abuse is addressed.
The DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly, who lost her South Belfast seat, called out one troll who said he hoped she died of cancer.
John Finucane, the new Sinn Fein MP for north Belfast, was also subjected to hate-filled comments, with one Twitter user saying they wished he had been killed by loyalist paramilitaries like his father, the murdered lawyer Pat Finucane, in 1989.
Ms Little-Pengelly shared a screenshot of the tweet, saying: "I got this little gem today...(excuse the language, it isn't mine...). It read: 'I hope you die of excruciating cancer you fat ugly c***'."
A Twitter account named Ulster Blackshirt commented on a picture of Mr Finucane saying: "Too bad the UFF ignored the wee b****** back in 1989."
In each case, the cowardly attacks were condemned strongly.
Ms Lockhart, the new DUP MP for Upper Bann, has frequently been the victim of online abuse, and said social media companies must act.
"It seems to be a huge problem and I think people need to start taking it seriously, particularly the big social media outlets themselves," she said.
"It can't continue, it will put people off going into public life.
"I've said this before, as politicians we're thick-skinned. As soon as someone talks about your looks they've lost the argument completely.
"It's more your family reading it that is concerning.
"They don't like to see the negative things people are saying online, particularly about your looks."
She added: "It has to be stamped out, it can't continue. The big social media outlets need to be more rigorous about who is setting up the account, have ID associated with accounts.
"They need to get real about this. I've been subjected to it for four or five years now, but there seems to be a lot more awareness and people aren't afraid to speak out. It was a long time before I felt I could say anything."
Ms Lockhart said the response she has received from companies like Twitter in the past has been "very poor".
"In my new role, I want to take this on as one of my new aims to make contact with them. They're very difficult to actually get any response from."
Twitter was contacted for a response.
Ms Little-Pengelly and Mr Finucane were also approached for comment. Assistant Chief Constable George Clarke said: "The PSNI encourages anyone who believes that they have been abused online to report it to us.
"We take all such reports seriously.
"PSNI would also take this opportunity to remind social media users that they are personally responsible for the content they post on social media and should be mindful of the potential for committing a criminal offence."
Some Twitter users said they had reported the abuse about Mr Finucane to Twitter, and urged the PSNI to investigate.
One said: "Twitter can you investigate this very clear hate speech, wishing and even inciting murder, I would also recommend you review the entire account."
Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was murdered by the IRA, said the kind of abuse directed against Ms Little-Pengelly and others could no longer go unchallenged.
"Trolls are pathetic and people who use social media to send such nasty messages are cowardly. I wouldn't want to be related to them or work with them. Pathetic."