Why I am joining the social media boycott

Football is doing its bit to combat online hate. Racism is rife within our country, across the globe, and the time for coming together is important.

From 3pm tomorrow my message and everyone else who will join in the boyccott is clear. Social media platforms need to take stronger action against anonymous trolls who hide behind their false masks of identity to spread racist abuse. It is an awful act that seeks to discriminate against those who do not deserve it. What has Tyrone Mings, Romaine Sawyers, Lauren James, Patrick van Aanholt, Anthony Martial and so many others done to deserve racist abuse? For too long now have footballers been subjected to vile racist abuse inside stadiums and online, most especially when COVID has restricted fans to watch from home.

My message is again clear. What gives you the right to spout racist language or use inappropriate emojis online? I’ll tell you why. It’s the work of a coward. Disguising your social media profile as a club badge or a current footballer who you absolutely adore, when the real person behind the keyboard types out the abuse. The keyboard warrior doesn’t have a life. It continually feels that by racially abusing a footballer, it makes them feel a bigger and better person. A lack of education and no sense of what is right and wrong, trolls represent the worst of what it means to be human.

Let it be known that an abusive troll online does not represent the vast majority of football supporters like myself and others who write for All Out Football. We know that racism in sport let alone football is wrong. We call it out. We Kick It Out and when we do return to stadiums, one racist voice in the crowd is one voice too many.

Racism in football is nothing new after the hostile treatment of players in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Now in the 21st century, the reality is that nothing is changing. The 21st century. Let that sink in. How is it right that racism continues to be alive and kicking in football after all these years? Social media has enhanced the abuse but the problems come from a lack of regulation and accounts that are easy to create. The racism directed to Swansea’s Yan Dhanda on Instagram is a prime example – Swansea City unimpressed by Facebook’s response that they would not ban the user.

A lack of a response and lack of combat to confront abuse online is a failure from the social media companies. In recent weeks we’ve seen the anger against a European Super League, rightly condemned, a dreadful idea. The big billionaire owners of social media companies are in fact a model to the same wealthy owners of the ‘Big Six’. The Stan Kroenke’s and the Mark Zuckerberg’s of this world do not care about the people they are meant to serve.

The profits rise high, the money piles in, but caring about those who love their football clubs and those that are targeted online – not a care in the world. The ‘Big Six’ owners unwilling to face the music and Mark Zuckerbeg himself failing to turn up to a Digital Culture Media and Sport select committee in 2018 here in the UK speaks volumes. Running away from scrutiny, failing to get a grip and deal with the problem – a total failure.

The fallout from the European Super League, the opposition to it, the protests outside Stamford Bridge and elsewhere was understandable but where is this same anger towards racism? How many who protested against the Super League will actually boycott social media this weekend? It is a choice but surely you cannot do one thing and not the other.

The outrage against the European Super League is an outrage in itself. Pathetic responses from football federations on racism is the bigger scandal and I hope that one day we’ll see a mass protest outside a football ground to denounce racism. Racism absolutely trumps money and reforms to our game hands down.

My decision to boycott social media is against racism but also abuse on the whole. Fallout from the Super League has also been mired by other unsavoury events. While FIFA, UEFA and the broadcasters are hypocritical when calling the Super League all down to greed, that is no excuse to abuse those who work for their respected organisations. This weekend’s campaign is backed by Premiership Rugby, English cricket, the Lawn Tennis Association, British Cycling as well as the broadcasters themselves.

The abuse directed to those that work at Sky Sports as an example in the past few weeks is part of the problem. You only have to look at the disgraceful misogynistic abuse Michelle Owen has had to put up with in the past month all because she accidentally missed a red card when out reporting. In December, the comedian Tom Allen as a guest appearance on Soccer Saturday during the Rainbow Laces campaign was subjected to homophobic abuse.

You wouldn’t say nasty things to somebody in the face or inside the workplace, so why do it on social media?

Twitter have responded to this boycott. In a statement, “Racist behaviour, abuse and harassment have absolutely no place on our service and alongside our partners in football, we condemn racism in all its forms. We are resolute in our commitment to ensure the football conversation on our service is safe for fans, players and everyone involved in the game”.

All very well and good but until you stop anonymity and make users prove their identity then the problem won’t go away. I would be happy to prove my identity on social media.

Will this boycott actually achieve anything? I certainly hope that it does. There is a debate as to whether taking the knee is really doing enough. Taking the knee is a personal choice where the Black Lives Matter movement literally means that black lives matter not more than others but matter so much that equality must be achieved.

To those that seek to undermine people’s choice in taking the knee, they are part of the problem too. Black Lives Matter as an organisation does have some controversial viewpoints that don’t appeal to everyone but the notion that inequality and injustice should not be confronted is wrong. By taking the knee and boycotting social media, these are actions that many people feel need to be done. It isn’t hard to respect their choice.

Is going silent for four days enough? If it hits the social media companies hard then that means something. Is it just another token gesture that will get us nowhere? Is keeping silent the best way to challenge online hate? Yes and no is my answer. Companies that have been the subject of boycotts and protests often become far more sensitive to how people perceive them, so it could and should make a difference.

This isn’t the first time I’ve boycotted social media. When grime music artist Wiley decided to share antisemitic posts on Twitter I took part in the subsequent 48 hour #StopJewHate boycott of Twitter, the result being Wiley’s account permanently suspended.

Racism and hate must not win. The social media companies must do more. Hats off to Swansea City for starting the idea, but once everyone boycotts, it is down to them. What are you going to do to stop racist and hateful abuse? Enough is enough.