National launches troll hunt: Online abuse 'unacceptable'

National's Deputy Leader Nicola Willis says the party has expectations of its members' conduct....
National's Deputy Leader Nicola Willis says the party has expectations of its members' conduct. Photo: RNZ
Accusations a Young Nat has been trolling female politicians online has prompted an investigation by the National Party, with the abuse denounced as cowardice on all sides.

A false social media account with a fake photo and name which regularly sent sexist, abusive messages to left-leaning women politicians in Christchurch was recently traced to a house owned by Young Nats member Bryce Beattie.

RNZ understands Beattie's flatmate - also believed to be a member of the Young Nats - has taken responsibility, and both have resigned their National Party membership.

National has launched an investigation into the allegations.

Beattie, who was planning to run for a local community board in October's election, withdrew his candidacy after the news. He denied having any prior knowledge of the attacks.

Labour MP for Wigram Megan Woods was one of those targeted, and this afternoon said while such behaviour was common online it should not be normalised.

"This was constant, it was targeted and it was toxic ... the normal kind of stuff unfortunately that women in public office get used to - comments about personal appearance, comments about being a woman - basically, misogyny that was practised online. They were not targeting male politicians, this was clearly targeted at women political figures in Christchurch."

"It happens every day, but we cannot normalise this. This is precisely the kind of behaviour that stops young women putting themselves forward, and other women putting themselves forward, to come into politics. It is not okay and it is not acceptable."

She said the account was operating between December 2020 and July 2021, and was linked to the house after Christchurch City Councillor Sara Templeton, who was also targeted, made use of the tools available through the Harmful Digital Communications Act.

Labour MP for Wigram Megan Woods says this kind of abuse is something she has become used to as a...
Labour MP for Wigram Megan Woods says this kind of abuse is something she has become used to as a daily occurrence. Photo: RNZ

Deputy leader Nicola Willis had no sympathy for the offender.

"Here's a clue, if you have to make up an identity and hide your name and face before you make a comment on social media, don't do it," she said.

"If you're not prepared to put your name to it then you're just being a coward and you shouldn't be doing it at all."

She said the party needed to look into the facts of the matter, but the party took it very seriously and had a code of conduct members needed to abide by.

"So long as they are a member of the National Party we have expectations of their conduct because they should not bring our party into disrepute. I was on the phone this morning to the president of the Young Nats, she utterly condemns this action as do other Young Nats.

"This behaviour of this one individual has made every Young Nat look bad and that's not fair because actually the Young Nats are interested in the National Party because of policy issues - not because of personal attacks."

She said it was unacceptable behaviour.

That was a position backed by National Party President Peter Goodfellow and Young Nationals President Stephanie-Anne Ross.

"No one should be subject to harassment and bullying, either in person or online," they said in a joint statement.

"We will be looking into this matter under our new Code of Conduct. This type of behaviour is not acceptable, and it is important for all parties concerned to see that it is stopped immediately."

Woods said attacks like this were experienced by women politicians from across the political spectrum. Whether the National Party had a culture problem was a question for them to answer, she said, and the party had little option but to launch its investigation.

Labour would have "zero tolerance" of such behaviour in its own ranks, she said.

"What I've seen is some people who are aligned with the Labour Party who aren't being cowards and hiding behind online pseudonyms, they are entering into political discourse and debate - which is quite a different thing."

On Facebook, Beattie said he was withdrawing from the local body elections because he did not want the accusations to distract from genuine debate for policy, or damage voter turnout.

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