University of Galway research highlights urgent need for action against cyber violence towards women in politics

Associate Professor Tom Felle, Discipline of Journalism at University of Galway
Sep 07 2023 Posted: 10:46 IST

A University of Galway academic has called for new Irish and EU laws, and billion euro fines, to criminalise social media companies who fail to tackle cyber violence against women.


Associate Professor Tom Felle, Discipline of Journalism at University of Galway, addressed the Oireachtas Taskforce on Safe Participation in Political Life today (September 7), citing research findings and recommendations from University of Galway research into cyber violence against female politicians. The research highlights the rampant prevalence of cyber violence, its impact and urgent policy responses which are needed to ensure a safe and inclusive political landscape.


Cyber violence against women, particularly those in the political sphere, has become alarmingly pervasive, fuelled by the mainstream integration of social media. This abuse ranges from derogatory comments to threats of violence and rape, significantly impacting mental well-being, participation, and representation of women in Irish public life.


Associate Professor Felle said: “International research shows that the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are male, often utilising the relative anonymity of the online environment to engage in aggressive behaviour. The lack of consistent platform policies and enforcement mechanisms complicates addressing this issue effectively.”


The University of Galway research is based on qualitative interviews with 78 participants, including current and former members of the Oireachtas and local councillors across political parties. 


The research found:


  • Approximately 96 per cent received abusive social media or electronic messages containing hate speech, foul language, and inappropriate comments.
  • 73 per cent faced threats of physical violence, with 38 per cent subjected to threats of rape or sexual violence.
  • 28 per cent reported being verbally abused in public, including disturbing incidents like faeces being thrown and threats of acid attacks
  • One in five say they have considered quitting politics due to online harassment, highlighting the chilling effect of cyber violence


Associate Professor Felle added: “We need a comprehensive approach, including educational initiatives that emphasise digital literacy, critical thinking, and appropriate online behaviour. This should extend to schools and society to promote respectful online engagement. There is an urgent need to enforce existing laws to hold perpetrators accountable for online abuse and threats.


“At national and EU level legislators need to make social media platforms criminally responsible for allowing misogynistic content and threats to thrive – including hitting them in their pockets with billion euro fines. Clear and consistent policies against hate speech and harassment should be enforced.


“Failure to address cyber violence against women in politics could lead to a perpetuation of inequality and silencing of women's voices, undermining gender equality and democratic principles.”


For more information on the Oireachtas Taskforce please see



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