Three Highland councillors have spoken out about the online bullying and abuse they receive on a daily basis, saying it is the ‘new normal’.
All three say they have had to call the police in the face of death threats, and for one councillor the threat was also of rape, in chilling detail.
For recently-elected SNP councillor Emma Roddick, the attacks started as soon as she started campaigning for the seat she won last month in Inverness Central.
She said: “The first death threat I went to the police about was someone who wrote that they knew where I lived, but the police said they can’t really trace these things.
“There was another saying I should be raped. It was very sinister and detailed.”
Ms Roddick, 22, said most abusers hide behind anonymous accounts.
She said: “The first death threat hit me hard because I wasn’t expecting it and it was pretty chilling the way they worded it.
“My councillor email has up to 12 quarantine emails in it each day. Some of them are genuine things that have been caught be the filters so I need to go in and click them but it takes a lot of energy every day just to click that notification because you imagine that it’s going to be awful.
“It’s going to harm my ability to be accessible if it’s taking mental energy to open my inbox.”
Ms Roddick said while the council offers counselling, she has her own routes to help her deal with the problem.
She said: “I can deal with it OK, but this shouldn’t be a fact of life if you want to be in politics.”
Caithness Conservative councillor Struan Mackie has been the target of online abuse since the 2017 general election.
He too has had to call the police to deal with a death threats.
He has been called ‘subhuman’ and had bullies burning his image and telling him to ‘do the decent thing’ and kill himself.
He said every time there is a major political event like a general election or referendum the social media abuse escalates.
He said: “Social media can be good, but it now gives unprecedented access 24 hours a day, and the bile and vitriol during the election campaign has been worrying.
“We think it’s the new normal, but it shouldn’t be.
“It’s as if we’re becoming tolerant of intolerance, and people think politicians are ‘fair game’.”
A senior female Highland councillor who didn’t want to be named said: “It becomes depressing and haunts you for a while and for some people this could lead to suicidal thoughts.
“After a few days I forget about it and move on but not everyone can do this.
“At one point I did approach the police as I was fearful someone could attack me in reality.”
Assistant chief constable Mark Williams said democratic robust debate should be encouraged, but abuse is unacceptable.
He said: “There are lines that should not be crossed that are criminal and whether they are gender based, race based, disability based, any sort of harassment, abuse – physical or verbal is unacceptable and is particularly unacceptable when it’s directed against politicians and we police that very, very thoroughly, very professionally and very robustly.”