Belfast Telegraph

Trolls mocking Michelle O'Neill's leg break

By Allan Preston

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill has been targeted with a tirade of online abuse after breaking her leg.

The former health minister was at Belfast Pride on Saturday before injuring herself in an accident.

A number of online trolls were quick to react, with many mocking Ms O'Neill's appearance and others using aggressive and violent language against her.

A debate on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback yesterday questioned why female politicians had to put up with so much sexist abuse on social media.

Alliance councillor Kate Nicholl told the programme that it was important to call out online abuse against all political parties.

"I think all women in politics get this.

"I think you can criticise policy, that's part of our job, but how we look is simply not relevant," she said.

"It's a means of trying to humiliate and shut women down.

"We should call it out especially when we see it with other political parties as well.

"I think we tend to be quite good in coming out in defence of women in our own parties when we see it, but definitely when I see it against women of other parties I like to say something."

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said he had often been targeted by online trolls, but found the best strategy was to ignore them.

"I'm afraid cruelty, misogyny and stupidity are part of the human condition and social media just makes it far too easy for people to indulge in those things.

"On social media people attack me for my views, for my looks, for any reason they can think of. I don't even read it anymore."

While disagreeing with Ms O'Neill on issues such as her record as health minister, he said attacking her for her looks was wrong.

"The fact that she's broken her leg or that she's blonde or whatever her weight is not an issue," he said.

"The only thing we can do is have people in positions of leadership taking a lead by using moderate language... and condemning those who don't."

The insults against Ms O'Neill have become typical for many female politicians in Northern Ireland.

In April, DUP leader Arlene Foster and MLA Carla Lockhart were targeted online after posting a picture together at a DUP event in Fermanagh.

Ms Lockhart said she received "very personal and very hurtful" insults about her appearance and called on the social media giant Twitter to tighten their regulations.

In a statement to this paper at the time, Twitter said they did not permit targeted abuse and harassment and had launched more than 30 policy and product changes to make their platform safer.

They added that policing content on Twitter was difficult as it often reflected the good and bad aspects of society.

Ms O'Neill praised Ms Lockhart for challenging the comments.

"Abusive, nasty or disrespectful comments towards anyone on social media are totally unacceptable," she said.

"No one should have to tolerate it."

In February, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long also hit out at the "misogynistic bullying" directed at her and other female politicians on Twitter.

Yesterday, Ms O'Neill thanked medical staff for their help over the weekend.

"Doing well after surgery on my right leg," she posted on Twitter.

"Very grateful to the wonderful hospital staff at the RVH who were all amazing...Thanks also to all those who've sent well wishes."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Alliance Party councillor Andrew Muir were among those who passed on their messages of support.

Belfast Telegraph

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