Northern Ireland news

Diane Dodds criticises social media giants' 'inaction' on abuse as she vows to pursue Twitter troll

Nigel and Diane Dodds with son Andrew who died in 1998

DIANE Dodds has pledged to pursue an anonymous Twitter troll as she criticised social media companies for failing to clamp down on offensive posts.

The former Stormont minister was speaking after she was targeted on December 31 by an account that made a hurtful tweet reference the death of her young son.

She gave a statement about the widely condemned incident to police yesterday and is understood to have been joined by the relative of a Troubles' victim to was targeted by the same account.

Mrs Dodds' son Andrew was born with spina bifida and died in 1998 after contracting pneumonia just before his ninth birthday.

She described her late son as a "fun-loving" young boy, who had an opinion on everything.

The Upper Bann MLA also spoke of his serious health problems and many stays in hospital.

She thanked those who had supported her family in recent days, noting that a post that was meant to cause harm had "generated a huge swell of kindness and goodwill and support".

"If there is good to come from this, the reaction to that tweet and indeed subsequent messages that I am told he posted in conversations after the tweet, I think that the reaction to that shows that all right-thinking people were disgusted and disbelieving that someone could do something like that," she said.

The former economy minister also criticised the "inaction" of social media companies.

She said after contacting Twitter on New Year's Eve, the company said the post in question did not breach its safety policy.

"It's really difficult to understand what kind of rules and format for protecting the public that social media companies have if tweets like this do not breach their rules or standards," she told BBC Radio Ulster.

She said the self-regulation of social media forms had not worked and that new legislation at Westminster would "not have the teeth" to tackle abusive content.

"Sometimes it seems that people who are in the public sphere are fair game for this kind of thing - abuse for doing your job or abuse because of your family circumstances or abuse because you've been the victim of terrorism is simply not right," she said.

Mrs Dodds said trolls were able to "hide behind a cloak of anonymity" and that social media companies would not necessarily disclose information about abusive accounts.

The abuse was yesterday condemned by former Sinn Féin minister John O'Dowd, who said people had a duty to report online abuse.

"Like any form of bullying, online abuse can have a devastating and cruel impact on the victim," the Upper Bann MLA said.

"Social media and website providers also have a responsibility to ensure that abusers are identified."

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