New candidates putting themselves forward for consideration in the local elections have been on the receiving end of online attacks including racist and misogynistic slurs.
A number of first time and aspiring local representatives have been receiving a barrage of abuse on social media since announcing their intention to run for a seat on Meath County Council.
While there is no doubting the vital role social media plays in election campaigns with candidates being afforded the opportunity to directly communicate with potential voters, experienced political figures have been taken aback at some of the vitriol aimed at new candidates and have offered advice as how to deal with online trolls.
Minister for Social Protection and Meath East TD Regina Doherty said new hopefuls eager to try and make a difference in our communities don't deserve this introduction to politics but it often comes with the job.
“If I had received comments like the ones posted on some of the social media pages of the new election candidates when I was starting out, it would have made me want to put my head under the pillow and throw in the towel.
"Why would someone want to put themselves through that? Facebook used to be a place that was relatively safe. You might not have been everyone's cup of tea and would get some discourse but most people were respectful. I don't know why but lately it's like a free-for-all.
“I used to think that I could change people's opinions and they would respond differently but you need to remember that normal rational people do not post toxic things about others online.”
Minister Doherty maintains that developing a thick skin goes hand in hand with becoming a politician but it's also crucial not to become immune to the opinions of others.
“It's important that candidates don't become desensitised to it either because you don't want to lose empathy and emotional reaction, both essential qualities for people representing local people in communities.
“I have found that surrounding yourself with good positive people over time counter-balances the negative. I have met so many amazing people while out canvassing who might challenge me but will always do it with the greatest respect. Those people who abuse you online will usually never say it to your face.”
Cllr Sharon Keogan is adamant that those hoping for a seat need to rise above the vitriol and the only comments to take on board are those of genuine potential voters.
“It's easy to say ignore it but we are all human beings at the end of the day and it does hurt. Bullying takes place online all of the time. Over the years I have been subjected to it very badly but you just have to keep going and rise above it.
“It’s very tough when the trolls come out and this is the way some of the bigger parties operate against the independent and smaller parties. If you believe in what you are doing you just have to keep going and try to ignore the haters.
“We are all going out there to do our best and work for the people and for someone to go online and criticise you about the way you look or what you are wearing that day or about something that your party has done it can be very hard.”
“The only question up for discussion should be, is has that person done enough work in my area to warrant a vote? Nobody is public proof, we can all be taken down at any stage and the public will let you know when you are not doing something right.”
‘People have asked ask if I think I’m Irish because I’m going for election’
- FINE GAEL
Yemi Adenuga is a Fine Gael local election candidate for Navan. Despite being active in the community, she has experienced her fair share of disparaging social media feedback since announcing her intention to run for election.
"It is tough because not only do you not know what to expect when you turn up at somebody's doorstep you don't know what's going to greet you when you log on to your social media account," comments the Nigerian native, adding, "Some people can be nice, some are neutral and others can be pretty nasty. I've had a mix of comments from criticising me being with Fine Gael to asking if I think I'm Irish now that I'm running and someone even asked me what made me think I was intelligent enough!
"By nature, I don't respond to people that are negative even if they are deliberately doing so. I try to answer any questions they might have and if it's obvious that they are just deliberate spoilers, I just say thank you and I walk."
It's not the first time, Yemi has been in the public eye. She appeared along with her family on the popular TV show Gogglebox.Goggleboxperienced the wrath for online trolls during this period.
"There were posts on social media at the time saying that of all the families in Navan, why did it have to be a black family representing the town. But out of all of that, we got more positive comments than negative ones and everywhere we go in Navan now people tell us how proud they are of us. That to us is a true representation of what was Navan is a diverse and welcoming community.
"It has to be expected when you put yourself forward but we are all human. It can be discouraging and upsetting but I always go back to why I'm doing this and that makes me determined to go on. The community in Navan has been very good to me and my family and now I want to give back."
‘I’m resilient but it can take its toll’
Navan-based Madeline Thornton is a first-time election candidate. She works as a solicitor in the town and has first-hand experience of the impact of defamatory remarks on social media. She believes this area needs reform and although criticism of politicians is often seen as coming with the territory when entering the political ring, the Fianna Fail hopeful doesn't think it should be accepted as the norm.
"I have an independent disposition as a solicitor so people's opinions are welcomed because I can argue well and I expect to be challenged. I engage to a certain point with comments but you have to stop when it becomes bullying.
"This is a process where people want to make a change for the better and this unwarranted online abuse undermines that. I've had so much support but I have also been on the receiving end of the keyboard warriors. I'm tough enough I can take it but it's not right. I know that we are meant to be resilient but it can still take its toll.
"Unfortunately, I think that women are more prone to getting this type of abuse because power has resided with one sex for a period of time. We live in a culture where women are perceived to have a certain role in society and until more women take these positions, they will continue to be scrutinised."
Madeline also teaches law and offers these words of wisdom to her students,
"Think before you post, if you are not prepared to write it on your back wall don't say it online. I really don't think that an intelligent discussion can be thrashed out in 280 twitter characters."
‘I won’t let the trolls distract me from what’s important’
Sarah-Jane Reilly is a new face for Fianna Fail in Ashbourne.
The Stackallen native has been bombarded with an array of unfavourable comments on her election Facebook page blasting her for choosing Fianna Fail to launch her political career.
Many took exception to The republican party tag line displayed on her cover photo while others declared their outrage on the past failings of the party she now represents.
But despite the backlash on her decision to run for election, Sarah-Jane maintains the best course of action to take is to just focus on the job at hand.
"Social media is a great forum for people to air their opinions, ideas and grievances. If it's constructive and people have something to add to the conversation then great, I'm all for it. I ignore the unhelpful comments and I don't engage with abusive or personal attacks.
"People are entitled to their opinions. I can empathise with them, they are frustrated on what was before and that's understandable but it's in the past at this point and rather than focus on the negative I'd rather think of ways to improve things.
If people have genuine concerns and questions, I'll take those on board."
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