'I feared for my safety, for my son's safety straightaway'

'I feared for my safety, for my son's safety straightaway'
Fiona Ryan, Jonathan Mathis and their 22-month-old son in the Lidl ad campaign. Picture via YouTube

A woman whose mixed-race family was subjected to racist online commentary following their appearance in a supermarket advertising campaign said she was “physically shaking” when she read messages posted to Twitter about her fiance and toddler son.

Fiona Ryan, her Brazilian-born fiance, Jonathan Mathis, and their 22-month old son featured in an advertising campaign for retailer Lidl.

Earlier this month the ad was tweeted by former journalist Gemma O’Doherty with the comment: “German dump @lidl_ireland gaslighting the Irish people with their multicultural version of ‘The Ryans’. Kidding no-one! Resist the Great Replacement wherever you can by giving this kip a wide berth. #ShopIrish #BuyIrish.”

The tweet was since removed by Twitter for violating its standards but first was followed by a number of replies.

Ms Ryan said she learned of the tweet when the producer of the television ad phoned to warn her.

She told Sean O'Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1: “She couldn't bring herself to say it over the phone to me, so I went and looked at it myself...When I first saw it, I was actually shaking, physically shaking. I had my 22-month-old son beside me so I had to kind of pull it together."

Ms Ryan went about gathering evidence of the abusive messages for gardaí, and despite initially being told it was a civil matter, she said the garda Victim Support Unit has since told them there is an investigating officer assigned to their complaint.

“I had to go through all the tweets myself and screenshot the ones that were pretty, for want of a better word, racist.

“When I read through them all, I was pretty shook, I feared for my safety, for my son's safety straightaway. It was pretty harrowing to have to read through all that and I don't think anybody should be subjected to that kind of online abuse."

She has called for an independent regulator for social media.

“I just think that there's a lack of understanding to deal with this particular issue. I suppose social media is another platform that we actually have to think about, how do we protect people under that as well?

“That's another issue that the Government really has to look at, fundamentally to be able to protect the people that live here in Ireland."

She also reiterated comments she made to the Irish Times, in which she said she and her family are considering leaving Ireland as a result of the abuse.

“I feel like if my 22-month-old son has to live in a country that doesn't protect his human civil right to be who he is, then of course I'm not going to live and stand in a country that does that to my child."

Twitter declined to comment on Ms Ryan’s call for independent regulation of social media, but said it takes “robust enforcement action when behaviour violates our abusive behaviour and hateful conduct policies”.

“As per our Hateful Conduct policy, it is against our Rules for people promote violence against, threaten or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity or other protected groups,” the company said.

“Twitter was also one of the founding signatories of the EU Commission's Code of Conduct on Illegal Hate Speech in 2016 and continues to engage with the Code.

“In January this year, we also hosted a workshop in Dublin with the Commission, the Council, and 50 NGOs from across Europe, including ENAR Ireland, to develop and deliver a Europe-wide anti-hate speech campaign,” the company said.

The Irish Examiner attempted to contact Ms O’Doherty via direct message, but no reply was received at time of publication.

Subsequent to this attempt, Ms O’Doherty posted the following to Twitter: “The demented left and their media drones are so desperate to destroy our Constitutional right to free speech and usher in fascist ‘hate’ laws, they’re more than capable of carrying out a false flag #hatehoax in relation to #Lidl models ‘The Ryans’. Problem. Reaction. Solution.”

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