Aoife Moore: Politicians need to set an example and modify their own online behaviour first

Politicians and members of every party say online abuse is wrong, but see no contradiction in happily following accounts that abuse their rivals in Government, or indeed journalists
Aoife Moore: Politicians need to set an example and modify their own online behaviour first

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald: The party has published social media guidelines for its members.Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Politicians and members of every party say online abuse is wrong, but see no contradiction in happily following accounts that abuse their rivals in Government, or indeed journalists. I know this to be true because my own personal troll enjoys a number of Leinster House staff as followers.

I say this not to cast shame on those who follow the account or to paint myself as a victim, but to illustrate the tacit acceptance of abuse levelled at those we see as against us.

Since the election and through the pandemic, as supporters of political parties became more entrenched in their views, many politicians say they avoid Twitter conversation completely.

As described in this newspaper on Monday, many TDs use it only to promote work-related content and very little else before the abuse arrives.

Journalists will often comment that social media, despite being essential to the job, is their least favourite part of it.

We often call on politicians to lead by example and when they stumble, as they inevitably will, much is made of it.

Sinn Féin, often maligned for their tenuous control of their party supporters online, has even published social media guidelines for its members, however, the most troubling instances of online abuse are often anonymous and faceless accounts, most likely not paying a membership fee to any party at all.

While these anonymous accounts are often seen as the worst thing about social media, some are followed and backed by party staff or TDs.

The back and forth between the two largest parties in Fine Gael and Sinn Féin serves no one, and time spent thinking of performative argument or creating American-style video attacks only serves to lower the tone for everyone.

Abuse online is so normalised now that when one of her colleagues in Leinster House liked a tweet calling her "an ignorant little girl," Holly Cairns initially decided to ignore it.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar recalls being told about Brian Stanley's allegedly homophobic tweet at the time it was sent in 2017. Picture: Julien Behal
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar recalls being told about Brian Stanley's allegedly homophobic tweet at the time it was sent in 2017. Picture: Julien Behal

Likewise, Leo Varadkar recalls being told about Brian Stanley's allegedly homophobic tweet at the time it was sent in 2017, but let it go.

The more we accept abuse online, the more normalised it becomes, and only by continuing to call it out when we see it, even if it's someone on your own side, will anything ever change.

If politicians want to lead by example, making sure that they don't like, support or follow anonymous or hateful accounts would be a good place to start,  second only to calling on the tech giants who say they have no right to limit hateful content to do just that, and address this disastrous and toxic race to the bottom.

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