The Irish tourism industry loves to promote the concept of “Céad Míle Fáilte” or “100,000 welcomes” but to some, even that amount of hospitality comes with certain conditions.

I primarily run a rugby union website that focuses on a particular team, so we often get trolls from “fans” with different allegiances.  It can often be cruel and abusive.  But none of it even comes close to the type of reaction Michelle Marie appears to be getting as she curates the @Ireland twitter account as the Guardian reports

Originally from Oxford in England, she wrote she had settled in Ireland and “it has my heart”.

However, just hours after taking over the profile – which is followed by nearly 40,000 people – the abuse began.

We featured a post on Newstalk a while ago which contained a story about public racist abuse towards foreigners around the country, particularly towards taxi drivers, yet the bulk of the comments beneath represented complete denial.  These people were more concerned about being called racist than the subjects of the article, even though it didn’t refer to them personally.

As far as online trolling is concerned, there is no doubt it is inevitable.  Social media needs to be available to all and that means the extremists will find their voice.  And I know there’s a body of opinion that says “just ignore them – the attention gives them oxygen”.

Personally I think they need to be called out as trolls and “WUM”s (wind-up-merchants).  Sure, highlight their hateful comments, but make sure they are put into their proper category.  If they are proud to be labelled as such, then that’s on them.  Meanwhile, the vast majority of civilised commentators can continue to use social media in a more productive fashion.

And when it comes to racism in Ireland, have no doubt that it exists.  My Portuguese heritage gave me a skin colour darker than most Irish people…now I can’t even begin to claim to have receive full-on “abuse” in the near 40 years I have lived here, but having said that, people’s attitudes towards me do change when there hear my American/Dublin hybrid accent.  In that time I have been asked was I Italian, Spanish, American Indian, Indian Indian, even Arab.  Clearly they would treat me differnently if they found out I was.  You have no idea how many times I have been tempted to fake it for a bit just to see what they do.

Once as I worked in a retail store a black customer walked in and the security guard made monkey noises as the other staff laughed.  This was over 20 years ago and though I was shocked I was too naive to express my revulsion.

I believe we are better served today by both acknowledging and confronting it whether we see it in the virtual or the actual worlds.

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