Anonymous trolls responsible for fake porn videos and online abuse should face the full rigour of the law, Justice Minister Naomi Long has said.
Hosting a roundtable discussion with political representatives, the Justice Minister vowed to look again at legislation locally around the use of fake intimate images; and to continue to liaise with Westminster colleagues as they finalise the Online Safety Bill.
Naomi Long said: “During the election campaign, we witnessed some truly shocking examples of abuse online, of intimidation and indeed physical violence against female candidates. This is not acceptable. Not only does it undermine democracy, it also discourages other women from putting themselves forward for public life. That’s why I wanted to drill down into the detail of these issues with fellow politicians today, with a view to looking at what can be done, either through regular policing and legislation locally or through the Online Safety Bill, which is currently going through Westminster.
“While I am broadly supportive of the Westminster legislation, I do feel there is more that can be done, particularly on the issue of anonymity. I respect the fact that there are good reasons why people want to be anonymous online and those reasons can be very valid but where people are abusing that anonymity, we do need to look at the balance between their rights and the rights of those who are using the forum for other communications and are finding themselves driven off it.
“Being online cannot equate to being beyond the law and I will continue to exert my influence to strengthen the regime as the legislation progresses.
“Sadly, during the election campaign, intimidation of female candidates also involved physical attacks and abuse that was perpetuated online in terms of sharing things like fake porn videos. In the last mandate, I introduced new legislation which covers the threat of using intimate images but where, for example, the images are faked, I want to look again to see if there is more we can do locally to bring these issues under the auspices of the law.”
The Justice Minister wrote to political parties inviting them to join a round table meeting to discuss the nature and extent of online abuse and intimidation of women during the recent Assembly election campaign, with a view to determining what more can be done to protect women and prevent such aggressive behaviour in future.
Naomi Long added: “I brought this group together to listen to all issues and experiences raised. That will enable me to set out clearly to colleagues in the Home Office, and beyond, what is actually happening; what levels some faceless, cruel and mindless individuals will stoop to – without fear of consequence it would seem – in targeting women in public life to express their misogynistic and or sectarian views.
“I hope today can mark the start of constructive engagement on this important issue in Northern Ireland. I will reflect on the points made during today’s discussion and consider next steps – what we need to do as society and how policy makers can drive change. If we can start to build a shared understanding of the prevalence of online abuse and intimidation, we can collectively identify any gaps in protection and come up with suggestions for future actions to help prevent it.”