Saturday 19 October 2019

Family targeted by online abuse following supermarket ad leave Ireland

Abuse: Fiona Ryan and her partner Jon Mathis appeared in an ad for Lidl with their 22-month-old son Jonah
Abuse: Fiona Ryan and her partner Jon Mathis appeared in an ad for Lidl with their 22-month-old son Jonah

Aoife Walsh

A family that was targeted by racial abuse online after they appeared in a supermarket ad campaign have left Ireland after receiving a death threat last week.

Fiona Ryan, from Co Meath, her fiancé Jonathan Mathis, from Cotswolds, England and their 22-month-old son Jonah appeared in a television and billboard campaign for supermarket giant Lidl in September.

The advert reads: 'In 14 weeks the Ryans saved €623. How much will you save?' and features a photograph of the family.

However, a number of racially abusive messages were posted on Twitter about the family after the ad began showing.

The couple, who were speaking on RTÉ's Late Late Show on Friday night, revealed that they decided to return to England after receiving a threat that left them fearing for their lives.

"The reason we felt like we needed to leave was actually because last week we received a death threat, so it gets a bit scary," Ms Ryan said.

"It's directed at Jonah as well. They're talking about harming and death to my partner and my child, so I'm not going to stay in a country that this is allowed."

Mr Mathis continued: "These huge platforms, these social media platforms, they're not doing what they should be doing to protect their users.

"It’s been quite harrowing to know what kind of stuff is out there, especially when it’s pointed at you. It’s been quite stressful," Ms Ryan said.

“It was all over Facebook and Twitter, people were trying to get into our accounts, that kind of thing and just saying whatever they want.

“The comments came in mainly through Twitter but then there was quite a lot of strong ones on Facebook. That resulted in a message coming through about the threats and stuff like that.

“I honestly didn’t think like, especially in Ireland, that being in a commercial would bring such negative attention to something that was completely innocent. I got so upset and angry at the same time that these people are looking at my child and saying all this hurtful stuff. He’s a completely innocent child.

She continued; "Jonah was in bed when I was reading them (the comments) and I heard a noise outside and my heart just sank, my heart was thumping. I was just like, ‘What is that? Is there somebody outside?’ That kind of fear, stress and anxiety was completely put on me from reading those comments," she explained.

Mr Mathis said racial abuse is something he has experienced throughout his life.

"Unfortunately, I’ve had it all my life," he said.

"It’s just something that’s been a theme throughout my life. It’s almost become sort of normal. It’s probably once every year or two, someone will say something hateful towards me because of my skin colour which is obviously something I can’t do anything about but these people don’t care, they’re not interested in logic or reasoning. They’re just filled with hate. "

Ms Ryan reported the abuse to gardaí a day after discovering the tweets. However, she was told it was a "civil matter" and that "they couldn't do anything about it".

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