Thierry Henry’s unilateral decision to boycott social media and shut down his accounts, as discussed in our previous blog post, has now been taken up by the entire sport in an attempt to get some meaningful action from social media giants and the Government to eradicate racist abuse online. Week after week, month after month, it feels like every match report is followed by an apologetic byline ‘…we’re disappointed to say that following the game another player has received online abuse…’ In fact, almost inevitably, after yesterday's Carabao cup win, City player Kyle Walker reported receiving racist abuse on Instagram. This despite the Kick it Out awareness raising campaign, players taking the knee before matches and of course widespread coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement.
With no meaningful response or change, the football industry has said enough is enough by uniting for a social media boycott over the forthcoming bank holiday weekend in protest at the continued abuse of players and officials. From 3pm on Friday until 11.59pm on Monday May 3, The Football Association, Premier League, English Football League, FA Women’s Super League, FA Women’s Championship, Professional Footballers’ Association, League Managers Association, Kick It Out, the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) and Professional Game Match Officials Limited will all switch off their Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts in response to the discriminatory online abuse of players and others connected with the sport.
“Social media is now sadly a regular vessel for toxic abuse. By removing ourselves from the platforms, we are making a symbolic gesture to those with power. We need you to act. We need you to create change.”
Sanjay Bhandari, Chairman, Kick It Out.
Demand has been building for social media companies to do more to end online hate by filtering, blocking and taking down offensive posts quickly, yet so often they leave these vile posts online for far too long and even then just temporarily suspend the accounts of the bigoted authors. Social media companies have consistently displayed a laissez-faire attitude over many years by reacting only when forced to and even then by taking the least effort measures. Their repeated lack of action has forced Government to take steps to regulate the industry with new legislation, and a raft of new laws are due to be implemented, but the machinations of passing these through Parliament is inevitably not quick. In the meantime, football is looking for law-enforcement agencies to identify and prosecute originators of illegal content.
“Racist behaviour of any form is unacceptable and the appalling abuse we are seeing players receive on social media platforms cannot be allowed to continue.”
Richard Masters, Chief Executive, The Premier League .
Whilst it’s obviously coincidental in terms of timing, but in a week when football has witnessed the power of collective action with the almost immediate dismantling of a proposed Super League due to fan protests, it will be fascinating to see what impact the solidarity demonstrated by the entire industry united in a boycott will have on the social media companies. Hopefully they will (finally) respond with some positive steps and genuine action, but it's a sad indictment of the industry that it should take such drastic action to force them to do so.