Supporting Local News

Journalism academic’s proposals adopted by Oireachtas Task Force

The Oireachtas Taskforce on Safe Participation in Political Life has taken on board a number of key policy proposals presented by a University of Galway journalism academic and former journalist – adopting them into the final report.

The Oireachtas Task Force report, published recently, outlines comprehensive recommendations to address the pervasive issue of abuse and harassment faced by politicians, with a particular focus on protecting women and minority groups, enhancing security measures and holding social media platforms accountable for online abuse.

Associate Professor of Journalism Tom Felle presented research findings about digital harassment and cyber abuse of female politicians to the expert group in September 2023.

He emphasised the urgent need for robust measures to combat cyber violence against female politicians. His presentation highlighted critical research findings from University of Galway, demonstrating the pervasive nature of online abuse and its severe impact on women in politics.

Key Findings from the University of Galway’s research included the revelation that around 96% of female politicians reported receiving abusive social media or electronic messages containing hate speech, foul language, and inappropriate comments.

It also found that 73% faced threats of physical violence, with 38% subjected to threats of rape or sexual violence; 28% reported being verbally abused in public, including disturbing incidents such as faeces being thrown and threats of acid attacks – and one in five considered quitting politics due to online harassment, underscoring the chilling effect of cyber violence.

Tom Felle’s key policy proposals are reflected in the Task Force’s recommendations, which include improving cooperation with An Garda Síochána in the reporting and investigation of digital threats; and providing psychological support services to local representatives, and equipping election candidates with training to protect against abuse.

It also recommends that Coimisiún na Meán should fully utilise its powers to regulate social media platforms and address online abuse.

“Adopting these critical measures is a significant step towards creating a safer and more inclusive political environment,” said Tom Felle.

“By enforcing stringent regulations on social media platforms, enhancing security for politicians, and promoting respectful discourse within political parties, we can combat the pervasive issue of cyber violence against women.

“These changes will not only protect current politicians but also encourage more women to participate in political life, ensuring that our democratic institutions are truly representative of our diverse society,” he added.

Pictured: Recommendations…Associate Professor of Journalism Tom Felle.

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