English football leads social media racism boycott

English football leagues, clubs and players on Friday started a four-day boycott of social media platforms to protest against racist abuse.

Such is the anger across the game that there will be no goal clips, lineup announcements, banter between clubs or even title celebrations. This means that if Manchester City clinches the Premier League trophy on Sunday it will not celebrate the title on social media.

Who is boycotting?

There was initially a joint boycott announcement by the English Football Association, Premier League, English Football League, Women’s Super League, Women’s Championship as well as player, manager and referee bodies, anti-discrimination group Kick It Out and the Women In Football group.

Ahead of the boycott beginning at 1400 GMT on Friday through 2259 GMT Monday, other English sports including cricket, rugby, tennis and horse racing said they would fall silent on social media.

FIFA, UEFA and the Premier League’s British broadcasters also said they wouldn’t post online across four days.

Other personalities are taking part including politicians and Prince William.

“As president of the FA (Football Association) I join the entire football community in the social media boycott this weekend,” he wrote on Twitter.

The US Women’s National Team also announced that its social media accounts will not cover English matches involving American players this weekend “in recognition and support” of the boycott.

Why protest?

The English players’ union led a move to boycott social media for 24 hours in 2019 — called the “Enough” campaign — to demand tougher action to stop hatred being sent online to their members. It hasn’t come, with no zero tolerance. For Facebook-owner Instagram, a racist post isn’t enough to get a user immediately suspended.

“It’s dreadful,” said Simone Pound, head of equalities at the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA). “When we first went to them after the Enough campaign I had reams and reams of the examples of the abuse players are receiving. We had (Leicester captain) Wes Morgan in the room talking from a personal level. There was the N-word everywhere, monkey emojis everywhere and they were like, ‘We’re really sorry. It doesn’t contravene our community guidelines.’”

Not much has improved after two years, according to Pound.

“Since we first met with them, they appreciate that isn’t a good enough response or answer,” Pound said. “However, we are still seeing and know that those words, those emojis are being used in a horrific way, daily to players and they aren’t always being taken down quickly. Sometimes they are still up six months after being reported.”

Instagram’s moves to eradicate racism have focused on action against abusive direct messages more than public posts.

Twitter inaction

The PFA found that 31 out of 56 racist and discriminatory tweets remain live on Twitter as of Thursday despite reporting them last year. Like Facebook, Twitter would not provide anyone for interview to discuss claims they are strengthening moves to remove discriminatory content and abusive users.

A study by the anti-discrimination Fare network with Belgium-based artificial intelligence company Text found that 157 players involved in the Champions League and Europa League final eight tournaments last August received discriminatory abuse on Twitter.

Six months later, 66 per cent of discriminatory tweets remained online as did 71 per cent of the accounts, Fare said, pointing out that while ethnic minority players receive more racist abuse, there is homophobic abuse sent to players across the game.

Government action

The British government is introducing a law to address online safety that could lead to social media companies being fined for failing to crack down on racism.

“We could see fines of up to 10 per cent of annual global turnover,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden wrote in Friday’s editions of The Sun newspaper. “For a company such as Facebook or YouTube, that could be billions.”

Clubs’ reaction

Manchester United announced on Friday that six fans have been banned for racially abusing Tottenham forward Son Heung-min on social media. United also found in a review of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook that 3,300 abusive posts were aimed at its players between September 2019 and February 2021.

Chelsea also said on Friday that a supporter had been banned for 10 days for antisemitic posts.

What’s next?

The PFA is preparing for more blackouts on social media.

“I personally feel this could be the first of a series of boycotts,” Pound said. “We can do this every week if we have to. This is not going away. They have to listen to us.”



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