Abuse could deter election candidates, say politicians

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STATES Members have come together to condemn the abuse elected officials face online and over the phone, raising concerns that it could put off potential candidates in this year’s general election.

However, Members also urged Islanders thinking of going into politics to still come forward, saying that, for the most part, people were engaged and respectful in their interactions with Members, who had a challenging but rewarding job.

Senator Kristina Moore said it was ‘really, really unfortunate’ that a minority was spoiling it for the majority.

‘They are damaging our democracy by putting people off [standing]. We should be encouraging anyone interested in the community to stand for election,’ she said.

Her comments came after Deputy Kirsten Morel took to Twitter after receiving an abusive call from an Islander, writing that it was not the first time, and that abuse was a ‘high price to pay to serve Islanders’.

Responding on social media, Rowland Huelin said he had received similar abuse, saying that while he tried to ignore it, ‘it can get to you’.

Speaking to the JEP, Deputy Huelin said: ‘It is a very difficult job. People may or may not like what you do but we stick our head above the parapet and do what we can.

‘I have not met a member of the Assembly who does not do their best for the Island, whether I agree with them or not.’

Deputy Chief Minister Lyndon Farnham said it was ‘unacceptable language and behaviour’, with much of the abuse directed at States Members seeming to take place online.

‘Complete strangers leave comments of a personal nature. If they took the trouble to get to know these politicians, they would find they were dealing with people keen to support Islanders,’ he said.

Senator Farnham said he tried to ignore the abuse, ‘but my family find it upsetting’. He added that he was fortunate to have strong support from family and close friends.

‘I am always prepared to discuss Islanders’ issues, problems and frustrations in a sensible and civilised way,’ he said. ‘Serving in the States is very challenging but also very rewarding. I would urge people to really consider it. We need good men and women to come forward.’

In a 2018 JEP interview, former Infrastructure Minister Eddie Noel cited ‘personal and often anonymous attacks’ on social media as one of the main reasons for his decision to quit politics.

Commenting yesterday, Constable Karen Shenton-Stone said abuse of Members was ‘totally unacceptable and unwarranted’. She said politicians did not stand for public office to be abused.

‘If you were subject to this level of abuse, it would put you off,’ she added.

Deputy Inna Gardiner was branded a ‘filthy NIMBY’ and asked to ‘please die of Covid’ in a message at the beginning of last year.

The sender later apologised to the St Helier representative after posting the messages, which were highlighted on the front page of the JEP, and Deputy Gardiner said she had received ‘overwhelming support’ in the wake of the incident.

Meanwhile, Senator Sam Mézec said there needed to be more accountability for online – and often anonymous – culprits after he received a violent threat from an Islander, who was arrested but no further action was taken, despite the Senator saying he was threatened again by the same person.

‘When there are serious threats of harassment, there does not seem to be accountability for it,’ he added.

Senator Mézec, who said he got his ‘fair share of abuse’, added that there was ‘no doubt this does put some people off going into politics’, but stressed that ‘99.9% of people are really lovely, even those who politically disagree with you’.

Addressing potential candidates, he said: ‘Try not to be put off by the extremely small minority who try to spoil it for everyone.’

Senator Moore added: ‘It is such a shame that we are losing really strong candidates. People are afraid and do not want to put themselves through something they perceive to be unpleasant. We should be using social media for positive change. Generally, I find people are really engaged in genuine discussion and, for the most part, really respectful in the community that we have, and people are kind to each other.’

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