Irish senator Fintan Warfield has condemned Twitter as “the most homophobic and transphobic space in most people’s lives”.
Warfield, a Sinn Féin senator, faced a torrent of homophobic abuse on social media in July and August after a photograph of him wearing a Speedo along with a t-shirt bearing a picture of Pope Francis was circulated by Aontú, a right-wing political party.
His experience became part of an Irish Independent investigation that found Irish politicians from minority backgrounds face significantly higher levels of abuse than their colleagues on social media.
The investigation, published 23 November, found that Warfield and Hazel Chu, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, faced more abuse on social media than other politicians.
Much of the abuse directed at Fintan Warfield compared homosexuality to paedophilia, a common homophobic dog whistle, while Chu faced shocking racist abuse that told her to “go back” to China, despite the fact that she was born in Dublin.
In just one week, 21 out of 77 tweets directed at Warfield contained homophobic abuse, the investigation found. Warfield was later forced to put his social media accounts on private in an effort to stem the flow of abuse.
Both Warfield and Chu faced greater levels of abuse on Twitter when they spoke out against discrimination based on sexuality, gender or race.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Warfield urged Twitter to tackle homophobic abuse on the platform.
“It’s become so toxic that Twitter is basically the most homophobic and transphobic space in most people’s lives,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chu said: “We need to protect freedom of speech, absolutely, but there is a difference between free speech and coordinated attacks.”
Warfield was met with a wave of love and support from LGBT+ people and allies when right-wing trolls targeted him with homophobic abuse in July and August.
Aontú tweeted an image, taken from his personal Instagram account, of him wearing a Pope Francis t-shirt and Speedos and wrote: “Why is a Sinn Féin senator purposely seeking to offend people’s religious beliefs?”
The tweet was deleted, but the image continued to circulate, with huge numbers of far-right Twitter accounts attacking the gay senator in tweets that repeatedly referenced his sexual orientation.
Warfield later said he had been forced to report some of the abuse to An Garda Síochána, Ireland’s police force, after he received threats.