Some 82% said they had received abusive comments on social media, while 48% said they had been cyberbullied — subjected to a prolonged campaign of abuse by an individual or group.
The survey, which was distributed to the 166 members of Dáil Éireann, received 110 responses. Of these, 89 TDs said they were active on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Of those active on social media:
– 73 said they had received abusive comments online;
– 43 felt they had been victims of cyberbullying;
– 42 were reluctant to speak out about the issue personally;
– 29 asked to remain anonymous.
Speaking about his own experience with cyberbullying, Wexford TD Paul Kehoe said he had received “extremely serious threatening and abusive tweets,” while Dublin North TD Alan Farrell said he might be a politician, but is also “a person, who can be hurt by such attacks”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin acknowledged the issue, calling cyberbullying “unacceptable” and urging people to speak out against it.
Despite this, a large number of politicians who had received threatening, hurtful or abusive comments felt unable to speak out for fear of attracting more abuse.
Carlow-Kilkenny TD Ann Phelan said: “The pressure is on politicians to ignore cyberbullying because highlighting it only invokes more criticism.”
Laois-Offaly TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy added: “A politician speaking out will be pilloried. We are not considered to be human beings.”
Minister of State Seán Sherlock also experienced cyberbullying, which caused him “sleepless nights” before he developed coping skills.
In 2012, the suicide of Meath TD Shane McEntee was linked to cyberbulling. More recently, Labour senator Lorraine Higgins received death threats on social media.