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Editor's Viewpoint

Online platforms must tackle trolls

Editor's Viewpoint


Trolls need to be stopped

Trolls need to be stopped

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Trolls need to be stopped

Anyone who doubts just how severely online trolling can affect those it is directed at should read Sorcha McAnespy's interview in this newspaper today.

The Omagh mother-of-three, a former Sinn Fein and independent councillor, endured a vile online campaign that included the Photoshopping of her face onto a lewd image and the spreading of false rumours of a relationship with a well-known figure in Co Tyrone.

By putting these distressing images and rumours online, the trolls behind them were able to gain a global reach, and indeed one friend of Ms McAnespy contacted her from Canada to ask about the information being circulated.

As a result of the campaign, the Omagh woman admits she was in a very dark place, and there is little doubt that being subjected to such online abuse can result in mental health being affected.

She has spoken out bravely about her ordeal and has gone to the PSNI, but was told there was little it could do because trolls hide behind anonymity online.

She wants those who run platforms such as WhatsApp to be made accountable when those social media outlets are used to spread hate and distress.

Her ordeal mirrors to an extent the experience of Irish News journalist Allison Morris, who endured a four-year campaign of harassment by a former partner who was recently jailed. He had stalked her both physically and online.

Ms Morris called for a specific offence of stalking to be added to legislation here and there is hope that this could happen swiftly.

Justice Minister Naomi Long has said she will bring legislation through Stormont to tackle domestic abuse. The Department of Justice said this legislation will include provisions to combat stalking, and that includes cyber-stalking as endured by both Ms McAnespy and Ms Morris.

It is intolerable that anyone can have their reputation blackened by faceless trolls and suffer mental health problems without having any redress.

Those who create social media platforms should use their powers to monitor obvious online abuse and remove offensive material once a complaint has been made. The cloak of anonymity cannot be all-embracing cover for those with the most depraved outlook.

The Executive should pass the proposed abuse legislation, which has widespread public support, as soon as possible to protect the innocent.

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