| 18°C Dublin

Senator branded 'whore' by web trolls fights back

Close

Senator Lorraine Higgins

Senator Lorraine Higgins

Senator Lorraine Higgins

A senator who was branded a "whore" by internet trolls has written to social media giants Facebook and Twitter demanding they do more to protect victims of online abuse.

Labour's Lorraine Higgins had to have her home subjected to a garda security sweep after she received a terrifying death threat and other vile online abuse.

The Galway East senator said the social media companies have a "moral and legal responsibility" to protect victims of online abuse and has written to the Dublin headquarters of both Facebook and Twitter to demand action.

In her correspondence, seen by the Sunday Independent, Ms Higgins called on both companies to publish data on the numbers of abuse complaints they have received, what steps they took to deal with them and how many cases they referred to the gardai.

"You have a moral and legal responsibility to your users, and you owe each and every user with an account that sort of protection and nothing less," she wrote.

She added that, as a victim, she was "most concerned" about the online abuse given what she called the detrimental impact such abuse may have on Twitter and Facebook account holders' mental health and well-being.

Ms Higgins said she decided to approach Twitter and Facebook directly because she feels companies who make huge profits from customers should not "shirk their duties and responsibilities" when these same clients come under attack.

She told the Sunday Independent: "They owe each and every one of us a duty of care and must protect their online users and this is particularly true in Ireland where their sites are unregulated."

Since news of the threats to Ms Higgins became public earlier this month, she has received hundreds of messages of support from people across the country.

"Some were commending me for the stance I took in facing down the bullies while others had their own stories to share with me," she said. "At one stage I thought I was the most hated person in Ireland or at least the most hated politician. Such was the co-ordinated deluge of negativity and abuse I sustained when I opened my mouth."

Ms Higgins said she is certain the abuse was politically motivated. "A number of abusive and threatening messages came from people openly supporting Sinn Fein. And the last direct threat I received was from a supporter of Direct Democracy Ireland," she added.

However, Sinn Fein said that anybody engaging in this type of behaviour is not doing so in the name of the party. "Furthermore, we call on anyone who is engaged in such behaviour to desist," a spokesman added.

Ms Higgins said, as a politician, she is used to rough criticism, but that some of the extreme abuse she has endured has been very difficult on her family.

"I'm used to this being part and parcel of public life, but it's difficult for members of my family to take this infringement on their lives - they didn't sign up to politics. I didn't realise when I was signing up, this would be part and parcel of the job description."

Last month, she received a further volley of explicit threats. In one message, she was called a "poxy traitorous, two-faced, money-grabbing, bimbo bitch".

The sender then threatened to "rip her head from your shoulders and shove it up your arse as a plug for all the stupid shit that is coming out of you". It then went on to call her a "dumb blonde, a fucking clown" before repeating the threat to "rip your head off".

Ms Higgins reported the threats to gardai.

"The gardai did a security sweep of my parents' home, I suppose they were prioritising my personal safety. This sweep occurred last week," she said. "The gardai have treated very seriously the second complaint I made about three weeks ago."

And Ms Higgins, who will contest the forthcoming general election, has been warned she is in store for more abuse as her campaign gets under way.

A spokeswoman for Twitter would not comment on Ms Higgins' call to do more to protect victims of online abuse when contacted by the Sunday Independent.

She said: "We do not comment on individual accounts, for privacy and security reasons. We review all reported content against our rules, which prohibit targeted abuse and direct, specific threats of violence against others."

A spokesperson for Facebook did not return calls seeking comment.

Sunday Independent