‘I was silenced in fear’: Maria Bailey says reform needed on social media regulation

Former Fine Gael TD shares experience with online abuse after claim against Dublin hotel

Maria Bailey: ‘I was at the epicentre of persistent abuse over the course of approximately nine months and that just takes a toll on anybody.’ File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Maria Bailey: ‘I was at the epicentre of persistent abuse over the course of approximately nine months and that just takes a toll on anybody.’ File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Former Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey has said she hopes to see reform in how social media platforms were regulated when it came to abusive comments online, adding that being at the centre of online abuse is “exceptionally stressful and isolating”.

Ms Bailey told Newstalk Breakfast of the abuse she suffered following her controversial claim against a Dublin hotel for a fall from a swing, while welcoming proposed legislation to regulate social media platforms.

The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill provides for the appointment of an online safety commissioner as part of a wider Media Commission to oversee new regulatory framework for online safety.

Ms Bailey said: “I was at the epicentre of persistent abuse over the course of approximately nine months and that just takes a toll on anybody, whether that’s myself directly or the people around me, by abuse, ridicule, intimidation, and it was exceptionally stressful and isolating.

“You find that you’re in the middle of a pile-on and you’re a lone voice in a very loud pile of abuse and the volume is so loud that the truth and facts can’t be heard or don’t want to be heard.”

The former Dún Laoghaire TD took a personal injuries case against the Dean Hotel on Harcourt Street arising from a fall from a swing-type seat within the hotel in 2015, which she later withdrew.

‘Fear’

Ms Bailey said the abuse she suffered was in relation to documents that were made public without her consent. “I was silenced in fear and I’m not anymore.”

At the peak of the online abuse, she said her father was in the final stages of motor neurone disease. On the weekend of his death, people were arriving at her door, she said, despite an appeal to media organisations to respect her privacy.

Ms Bailey said that the abuse suffered by women online is different from that experienced by men. “It is of a more personal or sexual nature and that can be really hard.”

People’s opinions and criticism were part and parcel of politics, she acknowledged. “But when it’s something in your private life and when the full facts haven’t been put out there, nor should they be, that pile-on is too much.”

Supports were available and people needed to know that they were not alone, she said.

Ms Bailey said she was hoping to see reform in how social media platforms were regulated when it came to abusive comments online.

“I’m delighted to see this Bill going through the Oireachtas at the minute and finally there will be compliance and regulation that will be put in place and these online platforms will no longer be self-regulatory, that there will be an online safety commissioner involved and there will be recourse,” she added.

“What we do have is false accounts as well as people with real accounts and the recourse can be very limited there.”

An online commission would be a move in the right direction, she said. “It won’t be a catch-all because once something goes online the damage is done, but at least now there will be someone looking at the content and these online platforms will come under regulation and I think that’s really important.”

Earlier this year, Ms Bailey described how the “swing-gate” controversy “destroyed” her and that she became fearful of doing her weekly shop or bringing her children to the playground.

The former TD said that she had been “deleted” by Fine Gael when she was deselected by the party in November 2019 ahead of the general election in February 2020.