Tuesday 20 August 2019

'I've been called everything' - Green councillor Hazel Chu speaks out against online trolls

Green Party councillor Hazel Chu. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Green Party councillor Hazel Chu. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Aoife Walsh

A Dublin councillor has spoken out against online trolls who have been "bullying" her with racist messages following a flood of tweets questioning her nationality.

Irish-born Green Party councillor Hazel Chu has been subjected to online abuse after she shared a video online that branded her as "that migrant".

Since sharing the video, Chu has received hateful messages and a series of phone calls from an unknown number, which she has reported to gardaí, she told Independent.ie at the weekend.

“What happened last week is that someone sent me a video on Twitter and referred me to a link, a few people actually. There was an individual standing outside a protest in Dublin, at Google in Dublin at the time," she told RTÉ's Ryan Tubridy this morning.

In the video, Chu explains she was referred to as "that migrant", and it as claimed that she "was curtailing people’s freedoms and trying to censor people by say that hate speech is wrong."

She said: "Hate speech is wrong. I am not ‘that migrant’, as we were just saying, born in the Rotunda, and grew up in Ireland. But, then it kind of grew from there.

"Somehow, everyone felt like they had the right to discuss whether I was Irish or not at that point.

“If we are going to have conversations and discussions, then we need to bring facts to the table. It was factually incorrect. This conversation isn’t about censorship. When you talk about people, when you have discussions and debates, you need to be factual. They need to be true. We need to stop spreading lies and misinformation.

"My response was my usual kind of snarky response in fairness, I am kind of sarcastic at times. It was very much if we’re talking about me being a migrant - I was born in the Rotunda, raised in Dublin and I’m a representative of everyone.

"That was the tweet. The feedback I got then was ‘you’re not Irish,’ ‘you don’t belong here,’ ‘you shouldn’t have the right to discuss and tell us what to do.’

"It kind of spiralled because someone then tagged someone overseas. This is a problem I have as well, is that it becomes this kind of global thing. For all the people that said ‘oh, you're a foreigner and you’re not Irish and you shouldn’t have a right to police our thoughts here’, the fact that they then tagged people overseas who also, in their minds, probably wouldn’t be Irish, to come into the debate was ironic as well.

"So someone with a lot of followers, half a million followers, tagged me in it, and he is quite well known for his right wing views, and next thing you know I was receiving hundreds of messages discussing whether I should be sent back to my own country, asking what would happen if people did this in China, why do I not advocate for mass immigration in China - again, I never advocated for mass immigration in the first place - and that I had no right to be here, and I should respect the country that has given me free housing was another one," she added.

While the nonstop flurry of hateful messages continued, Chu found a petition that claimed she is racist that had amassed a small number of signatures.

"I read the petition a few times myself and it was just incoherent. I think the basis of it was saying that I was racist towards Irish people because I was belittling them and I was telling them what to do and it went on from there. Fortunately there was only I think about 50 signatures to this petition that had gone up for a week. It actually started before this, the start date was a week ago.

"I found the whole thing a bit baffling. Suddenly I was a racist, suddenly I was told I don’t belong here even though I was born and grew up here, that there was all sorts of repercussions and there was displacement of the Irish identity thanks to me and a recalibration is coming," she said.

"I think that we have a huge problem in the country, that we have over 10,000 homeless, we have still an economy that is against the working class, we have issues when it comes to healthcare, and people want something to blame. And somehow, it’s easier to blame immigration. It’s easier to blame people within the LGBT community, it’s easier to blame people who are different. People hold onto that.

"At the end of the day, when I did go back on Twitter to have a reasoned debate, to talk about this dog-whistle of mass immigration and ask for facts, people didn’t come back with facts, they came back with rhetoric.

"If you’re going to use a word like mass immigration, then tell me how the CSO figures are incorrect. Tell me how, in 2018 we had 90,000 immigrants and out of that 31 pc, which is just under 30,000 were Irish people returning. How is that mass?

"I’ve been called everything that goes from your average witch to the one that rhymes with witch, to something that rhymes with James Blunt, so I’ve been told everything, to go back to where I came from, some hellhole according to some people. Firhouse is not a hellhole I’ll have you know."

While at home with her two-year-old daughter over the weekend, Chu received a phone call from an unknown caller which lead her to call the guards.

"It was just heavy breathing on the call. I thought ‘it’s just one of those, it’s fine’. But by the sixth phone call, I kind of realised this is actually just not cool," she said.

However, Chu credited her ability to not allow the abuse affect her to balancing the kind messages she receives amongst the hate.

"A lot of people did send me messages to say ‘listen, keep up the good work’ and you balance that, you kind of go you know what, it’s really crappy, it’s really just crap of people to make calls to your home or make calls to your number and just be cowardly and breathe down the phone. But on the other side, there’s a lot of love and a lot of unity in the country as well so I think that makes the thick skin easier to have."

Chu has branded the reaction she has received as "bullying", explaining: "This is what it is - bullying. One of the things I realised when I was younger was when you grow up, it actually gets better. People grow up, you become an adult, and it gets better. But what I'm noticed in the last five years especially is that it's growing.

"Be it because of issues happening in the US, be it the leadership in the US, or around the world, or the UK. This is happening in our own country.

"Some of the messages I received was from people that said, 'oh I used to live in Ireland, but I moved out because I experienced x, y and z.

"No matter how much we want to bury our heads in the sand, it is happening," she said.

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