‘Threat in the air’: Abuse of politicians on the rise, ‘toxic’ trolls on blocklists

The abuse of politicians is escalating as local elections approach, with one would-be councilor talking about needing security for events and another about a list of toxic people to block.

“I would definitely say it’s worse,” said Wellington City Council candidate Iona Pannett, who is entering her sixth campaign. “There is a bit of menace in the air.”

The assault on politicians prompted the government in June to scrap the requirement for council candidates to publicly publish their addresses.

Speaker of Parliament Trevor Mallard spoke in April of a rise in ‘deeply gendered’ abuse of women parliamentarians, while a Study in the United States in 2022 found a 23% increase in offensive posts on Twitter by members of Congress and mean tweets led to more approval and attention on the social media platform.

In New Zealand, incidents like the 23-day anti-warrant occupation outside Parliament and the debate around the reform of the three waters have highlighted the apparent divide between politicians and certain sectors of society. In April, Porirua Mayor Anita Baker spoke of online abuse suffered by female politicians, including being personally called “c…” and receiving three death threats.

Wahine Māori mayoral candidate Tory Whanau said the concerning behavior ranged from being called “fucking Jacinda” to, almost weekly, men “slithering into my DMs”. [direct messages on social media]“Asking for sex. “It’s disgusting, I end up blocking a whole bunch of men.”

Wellington mayoral candidate Tory Whanau has been proposed and abused online.

KEVIN STENT / Stuff

Wellington mayoral candidate Tory Whanau has been proposed and abused online.

Screenshots of various posts include: “keep getting dicked girly”, “what a spoiled brat this woman is”, and “2 bikinis one size too small and a wrestling pit in the mud…the winner takes all”.

Wellington Councilor Teri O’Neill said fellow councilor Nicola Young shared a list with female colleagues at the start of this triennium of around six phone numbers that should be blocked due to worrying behavior and threatening. About five out of six were men.

She had been threatened at public meetings and would be in contact with other candidates, such as young, gay or trans candidates, to ensure they were aware of the issues.

A known troublemaker tried to bring him and fellow young politician Tamatha Paul to a late night meeting. No one else was invited.

Green Party candidate Luana Scowcroft said specific concerns about a man likely to attend candidate events meant the party was looking to send security.

The man in question was known for his behavior towards women and police had previously been called after he allegedly threatened someone with a gun, she said. Scowcroft said she didn’t like taking her children campaigning and would keep them home to meet candidates at meetings.

Steph Edlin, 21, who is running for the council for the second time, expected the abuse to escalate as the 2022 campaign continued. Three years ago, someone posted that she looked like a “succube in the making”. The mythical creature is a female demon who sexually attacks sleeping men.

“Certainly, as a woman, you’re more likely to get comments like that.”

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster said he suffered abuse, some of which he reported to authorities, but it was unclear whether it got worse over time.

Candidate Paul Eagle said this campaign had been his worst for racial stereotyping – mainly about his height or being a “lazy Maori”.

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