Online Abuse and Threats of Violence Against Female Politicians on the Rise

Tom Felle, Head of Journalism and Communication at NUI Galway
Oct 02 2020 Posted: 08:43 IST

The findings are the result of research carried out by a team from NUI Galway’s Journalism and Communications discipline

A new study by NUI Galway has found that online abuse of female politicians is on the increase and has included threats of physical and sexual violence against them and their families.

Current and former female members of the Oireachtas, as well as female councillors from all major political parties were interviewed in the qualitative study.

The interim findings are part of a study carried out by a team from NUI Galway’s Journalism and Communication discipline. The findings were presented today (Friday, 2 October) to a webinar ‘Cyber Harassment: Women in Politics and Online Abuse’ organised by the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality and the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

Some 96 per cent of those interviewed as part of the study have received social media or email messages that used threatening language or ‘hate mail’; while three quarters say they have been threatened with physical violence via online or social media.

Almost two in five reported they had been threatened with sexual violence, with a quarter saying they have been verbally abused in public.

One politician had faeces thrown at her in public while another was threatened with an acid attack. A former TD said: “I was repeatedly threatened by a troll who threatened to throw acid in my face. Another once said he knew where I lived and he’d be standing in my garden waiting for me.”

Other respondents admitted to:

  • receiving threatening and abusive phone calls at home and on their mobile phone
  • being worried about their family’s safety as a result of threats on social media
  • not feeling comfortable attending large public meetings alone
  • having considered quitting politics as a result of the abuse received

A small minority say they have reported the abuse, but of those that made complaints a number said they found it hard to get gardai and social media companies to take threats seriously, as there was a perception that politicians were ‘fair game’.

Tom Felle, Head of Journalism and Communication at NUI Galway, said: “Some of these results are truly shocking. Social media has become a den of misogyny, a cesspit of trolls, where many female public representatives are abused and bullied regularly. Threats of physical violence are criminal acts and abuse of this nature is abhorrent.

“At a time when society needs to see more women entering politics there is a real danger that this behaviour will have a chilling effect and discourage women from running for public office. The findings are particularly telling in local government.”

The findings are part of ongoing research at NUI Galway. The first series of 69 interviews was carried out between November 2019 and March 2020, with further interviews planned.


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