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Belfast Telegraph logo
20 April 2015

Sinn Fein's trolls scored own goal with John Coyle attack


An emotional John Coyle, who is standing for the SDLP in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, tells the Belfast Telegraph how it felt to be mocked online following a nervous appearance on BBC One’s The View

Fermanagh people are so courteous and kind that I felt particularly angry that John Coyle, the SDLP's Fermanagh and South Tyrone candidate for Westminster, was so vilified on Twitter.

He was ridiculed and savaged, apparently because - being inexperienced on television - he showed his nervousness on an election programme where he was up against two veteran performers, Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew, the sitting MP, and Tom Elliott, once leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Did any of that bunch of pathetic Twitter-muggers wonder for two seconds how they would have performed in such circumstances? Or what it's like if you're not used to it to be attacked online by a ravening mob who want only to cause you pain?

Of course not, or they couldn't have done what they did. No one with empathy could be a bully. By definition, cyberbullies are emotional cripples.

In this case, they saw someone vulnerable whose politics they dislike and so they pressed the "hate" button.

That's not how they see it, of course. Take this Twitter exchange between Professor Siobhan O'Neill, of Ulster University's school of psychology, and someone who thinks it witty, menacing, or perhaps both, to call himself "professor_evil".

Shocked by the horrible tweets, Prof O'Neill had sent Coyle a supportive message: "It's a tough gig, but it's great to see a new face! Haters gonna hate - they don't matter".

She really hurt the feelings of Prof Evil: "Except we do matter, because we are voters. We don't matter? No wonder politics is in shape it's in".

As academics do, Prof Siobhan appeased a bit. "Voters are really important. By 'haters' I meant abusive Twitter trolls".

Prof Evil was not mollified: "Maybe the 'trolls' vote? Maybe they aren't 'trolls' but criticising justly. Just a thought".

That's a complicated philosophical exchange. While it's true that voters matter in terms of election results, if they're really warped and abusive people with revolting opinions, they don't matter in a moral sense, should be ignored, or ridiculed, by decent people and told where to put their votes.

Admitting publicly that the personal nature of the jibes were so painful and upsetting that he cried, John Coyle added: "It has been hurtful - if someone attacks you and abuses you, most people will take it to heart."

Since Twitter has a heart, as well as a spleen, his honesty caused many to rally in support.

By now, Coyle must realise that it wasn't his deficiencies that prompted the abusive tweets, but the desire of some of Gildernew's nastier supporters to intimidate and demoralise a political opponent.

Naturally, Sinn Feiners feel a particular antipathy towards Coyle. They are furious with the SDLP for standing in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and the nastier of them will do everything they can to destroy their candidate.

They threw the hatemongers' kitchen sink at Coyle - even deriding him because he has a Fermanagh accent.

It's a very long time since I cried over being publicly humiliated. Oddly enough, it was over a professor who had been brutal to me in front of many people.

When I got home, I sobbed over it to my father. "Dry your tears," he said, "get to work and show him he's wrong." And I did and in future that approach made destructive criticism easier to bear. In the Twitter era, I regard horrible tweets as badges of honour and a goad to work harder.

They write that I'm obsessed with Gerry Adams, I'm a bore because I write so much about Sinn Fein, I can't write, I'm past it, I'm an ugly old bigot and so on and on and, invigorated, I redouble my efforts to show up Sinn Fein as the nasty cult I think it is.

My advice to John Coyle is to recognise that he is being attacked because he's seen as a threat and to take it as a compliment.

The trick is to learn to laugh at these people. And when dealing with Sinn Fein trolls, as most of these people almost certainly are, my tip is to retweet what is particularly appalling, because that will embarrass the politically correct people who control the party and know such contributions are bad for public relations.

John Coyle is a farmer and a councillor who wants to do his best for the people of the constituency for which he's been selected. He's wrong-footed his tormentors, is clearly gaining in confidence and is improving steadily with the broadcast media. And the trolls have probably won him votes.

After all, Fermanagh people are famous for their good manners.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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