Arlene Foster to dedicate time to combating online abuse

First Minister and outgoing DUP leader Arlene Foster leaving the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Belfast on the evening of Edwin Poots ratification as the new DUP leader. Credit: PA

Outgoing First Minister Arlene Foster is planning to dedicate her time to combating online abuse.

Ms Foster, who will be replaced as DUP leader by Edwin Poots, has said she will now use her time out of office to tackling online trolls.

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA was recently awarded £125,000 over an “outrageous” defamatory tweet which made unfounded claims that the First Minister of Northern Ireland was having an extramarital affair.

Ms Foster successfully sued TV presenter Dr Christian Jessen, best known for appearing in the Channel 4 show Embarrassing Bodies, for the defamatory tweet sent to his 300,000 followers.

“Turns out actually you can’t say what you like on Twitter and get away with it.

“And I think if the case today sends that message then I’m very happy about that,” she said about the case.

Ms Foster successfully sued TV presenter Dr Christian Jessen for the defamatory tweet sent to his 300,000 followers. Credit: PA

Appearing on the BBC’s Newscast podcast, she added: “What I worry about is when people who act on Twitter as if it’s the Wild West, that can say whatever they like, and then others join in and pile in to cause maximum harm and maximum damage.

“I think it’s important that that is called out and so the anonymity piece has to be challenged, I think.

“I’m not suggesting that people have to put up their true names, if there’s a reason why they don’t want to do that.

“But somebody needs to know who owns the Twitter account and who’ll be accountable if they decide to tweet harmful and abusive and, frankly, libellous comments.

“So that’s the route I want to try and continue with.”

Ms Foster said she wanted to take on online trolls for young people and women seeking to enter public life.

“It’s certainly part of what I want to do, not just for myself, because I’ll no longer be a public figure in that respect, but actually for ordinary young people and for women who find themselves attacked just because they’re different from how people want them to be,” she said.

“I think that’s wrong.

“Look everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but what they’re not entitled to is to cause harm to people and I think that’s really important to say.”

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill Credit: Niall Carson/PA

Commenting on her ousting as party leader, Ms Foster said “even by DUP standards it was pretty brutal”.

“It’s not particularly pleasant.

“I think that I said a couple of days after what had happened that politics is brutal, but even by DUP standards it was pretty brutal, in terms of what happened.

“I had absolutely no idea and was telephoned by a close colleague that this was happening on Monday evening and then by Tuesday morning, it was all in the papers.

“So, no, it wasn’t particularly pleasant.

“There was, of course, another way of doing it.

“But colleagues decided to go down a different route.”