Northern Ireland news

Allison Morris: Social media platforms must be made accountable

Security Correspondent Allison Morris

JUDITH Gillespie was Northern Ireland's most senior police woman when she became a high-profile victim of online bullying.

Trolls targeted the then Deputy Chief Constable by posting untrue comments about her personal and professional life.

As is common with these type of online campaigns, there were suggestions of non-existent 'super injunctions' preventing the media publishing allegations.

In reality the reason the claims against Ms Gillespie didn't make headlines is because they were completely untrue.

She eventually took legal action against several of those responsible, who were forced to post apologies and pay financial redress to a charity of her choice.

In an interview in 2016, she said: "Some of the stuff that was tweeted about me was so sexually explicit that it crossed the line in terms of grossly offensive so that crossed the criminal threshold.

"And it wasn't nothing. It was my personal integrity. And a woman in a position of high visibility, your personal integrity is incredibly important."

In May former DUP minister Nelson McCausland issued an apology in the High Court accepting that articles posted on his Facebook page that alleged this reporter had "been guilty of inappropriate conduct of both a personal and professional nature" were entirely untrue.

This was only possible with the support of my employers who supported the legal action. Mr McCausland also made a donation to a charity of my choice - The Welcome Organisation - which helps people affected by homelessness.

From experience I know that false allegations can be spread very quickly across poorly regulated social media platforms.

Elected representatives should always be held to account by the media, and that should always be rigorous and in the public interest, but news and gossip are not the same thing.

Newspapers and broadcast media are subject to strict regulation and for good reason. There will come a time when social media platforms - who make millions from their services - must be made subject to the same level of accountability.

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