Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Jailing of troll who targeted Arlene Foster sends a warning that such abuse of social media will not be tolerated

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster

Editor's Viewpoint

There are many advantages to social media, including its ability to link people together, but there is also a dark side.

This is underlined by the case of Gerard Traynor from Oldham, who has been sentenced to 22 months for trolling the DUP leader Arlene Foster online and urging her to kill herself, and also for racially abusing the new Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Mrs Foster has rightly called on social media firms to do more to tackle online trolls who do such damage not only to the individuals they target, but also their friends and families.

Arlene Foster in her public life is subject to political comment and criticism, but where trolls are concerned, she noted in today's newspaper: "You don't know anything about these people, where they live, how close they are or what their capabilities are."

At its best, social media helps connect friends, colleagues and families. It gives a ready platform for the voices of individuals who otherwise might not be heard, and can even help save lives by sending out warning signals to the right quarters.

However, the internet can be something of a Wild West with its own rules, or in many cases, no rules at all. Some believe they can write the most disgusting things without the fear of retribution, though this may be changing.

People in public life have learned to develop thick skins to ward off the verbal slings and arrows from outrageous and vindictive critics. Sadly, the trolls also target vulnerable people who are much less well-equipped to deal with personal attacks. These include teenagers and others, some of whom have taken their own lives.

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No one in public or in private life should be subjected to such attacks. Offenders must be apprehended and punished with the full force of the law, and the sentence imposed on Gerard Traynor shows that victims can have redress through the courts. Penalties must also be imposed on social media companies who must be held to account when posts go beyond what is reasonable.

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