— Arlene Foster (@DUPleader) April 13, 2018
DUP MLA Carla Lockhart has today rightly highlighted the unacceptable nature of personal abuse that was directed at her on social media recently.
Comments were directed at her and party leader, Arlene Foster, after the latter had posted a photograph of the pair on Twitter.
Lockhart’s intervention was welcomed by Sinn Fein’s Northern Leader, Michelle O’Neill:
Listening to @carlalockhart, well done to you for speaking out…Abusive, nasty or disrespectful comments towards anyone on social media are totally unacceptable. No one should have to tolerate it. All should be reported to PSNI and to the Social Media platform.
— michelle oneill (@moneillsf) April 16, 2018
The personal abuse meted out to high profile figures in politics can be deeply unsavoury, and is usually attributed to accounts with anonymous profiles behind which individuals hide to avoid being directly linked with cowardly comments that can be misogynistic, racist, homophobic or sectarian in nature.
Lockhart is correct to raise this issue.
It is equally important to call out the actions of elected representatives and commentators who resort to similar language on screen or on social media to denigrate political opponents using looks or appearance as a weapon.
A number of years ago, Carla and Arlene’s party colleague, Sammy Wilson, made this comment about two female elected representatives:
“The other two Sinn Fein ministers are two women. I can’t remember their names but their sister’s called Cinderella.”
There is only one way to interpret Wilson’s words. He has form in this regard.
Coming from a prominent elected representative, the significance of Wilson’s utterances to a party gathering would have a considerably greater impact on account of his status as an influential, high profile figure.
If Carla Lockhart speaking out makes a difference to the conduct of some people on Twitter, then it will be a positive step, and she is to be commended for raising her voice on this matter. But let’s hold our elected representatives and other prominent figures to (at least) the same standard we expect of faceless cowards on Twitter.