General Election: DUP contender Carla Lockhart pledges not to let online trolls affect her work
DUP MLA Carla Lockhart has said she will not let the misogynist trolls behind a torrent of hurtful online abuse deter her from doing her job as a politician.
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Ms Lockhart, who was last week confirmed as the party's Upper Bann candidate in the forthcoming General Election, was also subject to a number of disparaging posts relating to her appearance on Twitter.
On Sunday night she spoke of the hurt caused to her family and friends by the callous remarks and she thanked those from other political parties for offering her support "on this occasion and others".
It's not the first time the public representative has been attacked on social media over issues unrelated to her role.
Now the 34-year-old has said it's time for "faceless keyboard warriors" to be brought to book.
"Online abuse - which has been the unacceptable norm for some years - is wrong," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"Not only is it wrong, it needs to stop, and it needs to be properly policed.
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"I accept that I am in the public eye and I have no issue with being challenged on my beliefs or ideology.
"I will not, however, stand by as my family are hurt by faceless keyboard warriors whose only purpose is to score a hurt point."
My husband, parents, siblings and wider family circle see these posts and it is the hurt that it causes them which makes me determined to get this eradicated. Carla Lockhart
Ms Lockhart, who topped the poll in 2016 when she was first elected to Stormont before increasing her vote to again top the poll in 2017, said online abuse directed towards professional women is particularly vile because "there is a high degree of misogyny in the focus of these attacks".
"It is certainly not exclusive to women - and many men get comments that may be offensive - but it's less often based on appearance," she said.
"It is not party or employer exclusive as a lot of female public representatives, politicians and journalists get it."
The Co Armagh-based MLA singled out a particularly horrendous incident in which she and the DUP leader were both vilified on social media.
"Last year my party leader Arlene Foster and I were at a dinner in Fermanagh," she said.
"A picture taken at that dinner led to a torrent of online abuse."
And she said no one was immune to the trolls.
"I've seen politicians from other parties also getting abuse at times," she said.
"I welcome the huge support from across the political spectrum for me on this occasion and others.
"Online abuse is wrong and it must stop."
Ms Lockhart, a mother-of-one, said she refused to be "deterred from my role delivering for my constituents in Upper Bann" and she called for staunch social media policing.
"Politicians have always needed a tough skin but social media needs policed for the sake of every user," she said. "Last year my party colleague Diane Dodds had the opportunity to challenge Mark Zuckerberg face to face about how his platform was like the Wild West.
"Fake accounts post fake news but misinformation can be the lower end, as on this occasion. Mrs Dodds was able to challenge Zuckerberg about how fake accounts were bullying young people into taking their own lives."
She also said that social media companies need more scrutiny on how individuals are able to set up an account. "They cannot be blameless in this and whilst I know companies like Twitter do suspend accounts, these people pop up with another user identity and typically a generic picture within hours," she added.
"I will continue to fight for social media platforms free from this type of activity."
Ms Lockhart, who replaces David Simpson as the DUP candidate in Upper Bann, is favourite to take the seat.
Whenever you attack someone on their appearance you have lost the argument already. Thank you to those who have voiced support, who can disagree on ideology but do so respectfully. #NotBowed #NotBroken #GE19— Carla Lockhart (@carlalockhart) November 9, 2019