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Speaking this morning during a debate in Westminster Hall, Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart called for verification of social media accounts to tackle online abuse, particularly against women in public life.

The DUP MP said,

"Whilst this debate is focused on elected representatives, perhaps we should recognise that women across public life are being bombarded by abuse on a daily basis. Whether that is journalists, police officers or politicians.

Indeed, on International Women’s Day, when speaking about cracking the various glass ceilings, my Party Leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster said this:

“The biggest obstacle to being a woman in public life today is the constant stream of commentary on your appearance. The hourly trolling and monthly idiot who makes the “this is what I’d like to do to you” threat. . . .What concerns me more is the growing evidence of online lynch mobs controlled by dark forces who are unleashed on female public figures like a pack of lions to do as much damage as they can to the public figure and the cause they represent.”

Chairman / Madam Chair, such lynch mobs exist to spread misinformation and destabilise their opponents. Their existence is to be condemned and those who sponsor the mass trolling of women in public office must be exposed and condemned.

But such mobs are only able to exist because social media platforms permit anonymous accounts. I join with others in calling for verified accounts where users can interact incognito if they need to, but the platform knows their true identity.

Whilst in Northern Ireland we have redress through defamation actions, we must first identify the troll and then it is slow, very costly and the threshold for success is high.

Finally, online abuse directed at females is serious because in my experience it is like an addiction where the addict needs a monthly fix, then a weekly fix and eventually an hourly fix.

Sadly, as the abuse gets more regular it also gets more poisonous.

We need to send a stern message to those poisoning the public space, that they cannot abuse with impunity."