Social media platforms are “very, very slow” when it comes to tackling online hate and abuse, a county councillor in Wexford has said.
Cllr George Lawlor has been involved in politics for nearly two decades and says that he is “certainly used to the rough and tumble of politics” but that a small minority take things too far.
Early one morning, he heard his phone ring and, thinking it might be someone who needed help, he picked it up and answered.
“[The caller was] someone who had sinister notions in his mind, who was expressing his demands of me to come out and face him down,” he said.
“He didn’t give his name at the time but [he] also issued threats to my young daughter as well.
“It was a particularly sinister moment and it’s something that thankfully hasn’t been that common but it’s certainly something that shook me.”
It transpired the man had also created a fake Facebook account that had sent Cllr Lawlor messages threatening to “kick my daughter’s head around like a football”.
The incident was reported to Gardaí, who were “very helpful” but Cllr Lawlor says it was still “very sinister and frightening”.
“I suppose because we’re in the public eye as public representatives and councillors, some people - and I stress some people - feel they have carte blanche to say whatever they like to public representatives because they feel ownership.”
Ultimately, he decided not to press charges as Gardaí told him he was not at risk.
“I have to say, the social media platforms are not as proactive as they should be when it comes to tackling this,” he said.
“I reported a couple of comments that have [been] made in the past and they’re very, very slow on the basis that, ‘Well, this is free speech.’
“That sort of fosters the notion that people have almost a right to abuse public figures.”
Last month, Minister of State Anne Rabbitte said she feared for her safety after a bag of cow dung was allegedly flung at her during a public meeting.
Main image: Close up photo of a man who exposed to cyber bullying on social media.