The Premier League, Sky Sports and the English Football League are joining a host of other sports bodies in a complete 81-hour boycott of social media, to protest about the failure of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to stem the flood of online abuse. The boycott covers the UK Bank Holiday’s full programme of fixtures from 3pm on Friday 30th April to midnight on Monday 3rd May.
The organisations involved are calling for urgent measures to deal with the huge volume of harassment and racism directed at sports figures through abusive posts and comments on social media, saying that such posts which are reported are frequently left up online by the platforms and that no real-world consequences for the perpetrators is forthcoming.
THIERRY HENRY SAYS NO SOCIAL MEDIA IS ‘GREAT’
At the beginning of March 2021, former Arsenal footballer Thierry Henri deleted all his social media accounts after a spate of racist abuse directed at black footballers.
When he first took the decision to delete his social media accounts, Henry said he hoped to inspire others to take a stand against online racism and abuse and his action does now seem to have been the catalyst for the sports-wide action. He reports that not being on Instagram or Twitter these past few weeks has been “great.”
The protest has grown beyond football with the England and Wales Cricket Board, Premiership Rugby and the Lawn Tennis Association also joining in. But, it is the severity of the racist abuse directed at black footballers in particular which has been viewed by many as having prompted the stand. Those involved are calling on Twitter and Facebook to do much more to stamp it out, with an investigation by the Professional Footballers Association showing that 31 out of 56 racist and discriminatory tweets, notified by the PFA to Twitter in November 2020, still remain live on the site.
The organisations involved in the boycott have laid out a very clear list of demands to the social media giants:
- Better preventative filtering and blocking mechanisms to stop abuse.
- Effective account verification to keep users safe.
- Ensuring real-life consequences and permanent bans for perpetrators.
- Warning messages to be displayed as any user writes an abusive message.
- Robust, transparent and swift measures in place for violations.
- Reporting on the work social media companies are doing to eradicate abuse.
DON’T WAIT FOR BIG TECH ACTIONS
The protests against Big Tech on the shocking state of online abuse are long-standing. Despite both Facebook and Twitter issuing statements in response to the boycott, saying they “condemn racism in all its forms” (Twitter), it’s not expected that it will lead to any meaningful action on their part. While these companies operate as online monopolies, and in a regulatory vacuum, the best hope for users in the UK is that the Online Harms Bill, slowly making its through the parliamentary process, will be given real teeth by the introduction of hefty fines for platforms which fail to keep their users safe.