Election candidate won't be bullied by homophobic abuse

Ben Slimm
Ben Slimm

Stephen Fernane

Labour Party candidate Ben Slimm said he won't be intimidated by online homophobic abuse ahead of the local elections in May after an anonymous person posted the word 'faggot' on his Twitter page. The Tralee-based candidate, who is the first openly gay person to run for a Kerry County Council seat, spoke about the incident after it recently made headlines in a national newspaper.

"I was chatting on a local radio show with some other candidates about the prospect of getting more young people involved in local politics. I was asked did I ever receive abuse online. I cited the incident when someone posted 'faggot' and it was immediately taken and turned into a headline," he explained.

But Ben believes the government and social media platforms must make the legal repercussions clearer for people who fail to draw a distinction between 'freedom of speech' and 'hate speech' on social media.

For the most part, Ben said he receives plenty of positive messages online but that more needs to be done to stamp out personal abuse. Difficult as this is when faceless people are hiding behind fake Twitter and Facebook accounts, Ben insists that it's a problem that is not going away soon.

"Look, it's not something I'm really bothered about. I have a thick neck when it comes to this sort of stuff. But hate speech shouldn't come under the remit of freedom of speech. It's the conversation of our time, really. I would imagine that, the higher someone's profile goes, the more exposed they are to this sort of language. The government need to put more pressure on the people who spread this abuse."

Ben added: "While I think it's correct to highlight it, I certainly won't be engaging directly with these people if it happens again. I always say that if someone has the time in their life to go online, create a fake account and say something bad about a person, there must be something seriously wrong. But we do need some legislation on this, or at least put pressure on the social media platforms to put regulation in place. You shouldn't have a right to say something that makes someone else feel lesser."

Ben works as a Digital Marketing Officer at IT Tralee and is a past President of the Student Union at IT Tralee. He received the nomination for the Labour Party at a convention in 2018 to contest in the Tralee Municipal District elections in May. He will run alongside fellow party candidates Cllr Graham Spring and Cllr Terry O'Brien