English football officials said on Saturday they would blackout social media next weekend to protest “the continued and sustained discriminatory abuse suffered online by players and many other football-related players “.
The boycott enjoys the support of a coalition of groups, including the Premier League, the richest and most prestigious football league in the world, but also the English football federation; the first two professional levels of men’s and women’s soccer; arbitrators; the country’s players’ union, and others.
The action is a sport’s most direct effort to date to pressure social media companies like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to take action against online abuse, and comes after a season in the making. during which players, clubs, team leaders, referees, commentators and others have been the target of abuse.
The social media boycott also follows a week of fury and street protests against top clubs and their owners who have tried – and failed – to create a breakaway European Super League that has cut them off from many structures, including the pay system, which have supported football for a century. At each of the events, there were vitriolic demands for team owners to sell.
Cases of harassment have been well documented online. In February, Arsenal forward Eddie Nketiah posted a photo on Twitter with the caption “Work with a smile!”
The tweet was greeted with racist abuse from a Twitter user who told Nketiah, who is black, to leave the club. Twitter responded by permanently suspending the user’s account, Sky Sports reported.
Such harassment was prompted not only by the fans, but also by the clubs’ social media accounts. In December, commentator and former footballer Karen Carney deleted her Twitter account after receiving a wave of online abuse.
After Leeds United’s 5-0 win over West Brom, Carney on Amazon Prime Video Sport questioned whether Leeds would “explode at the end of the season”. An excerpt from his comment was shared by the Leeds Team Twitter Account, which prompted a series of hateful messages towards Carney.
Many on Twitter defended her and criticized social media folks for the team, including former Leeds captain Rio Ferdinand, who called for the removal of the tweet.
Bethany England, a Chelsea striker, denounced the Leeds social media team for ‘excruciating behavior’.
“Cyberbully an expert woman and open her up to mass online abuse for DIDING HER JOB AND HAVING HER OPINION!” England said.
In February, senior leaders of the Football Association – the governing body of English football – the Premier League and other organizations wrote an open letter to Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, calling on executives to end “vicious and offensive levels of abuse” from users of their platforms.
“The reality is that your platforms remain havens for abuse,” the soccer executives wrote. “Your inaction has created a conviction in the minds of anonymous authors that they are out of reach.”
In the past, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have taken action, such as temporarily or permanently banning users, but online abuse issues have persisted.
In a press release announcing the social media boycott, which will take place from Friday afternoon to Monday, English football called on the UK to “pass strong legislation to make social media companies more responsible for what is happening on their platforms ”.
In the statement, Richard Masters, chief executive of the Premier League, said the league will continue to push social media companies to make changes to prevent online abuse.
“Racist behavior in any form is unacceptable and the appalling abuse that we see players receiving on social media platforms cannot be allowed to continue,” Masters said. “Football is a diverse sport, which brings together communities and cultures from all walks of life and this diversity makes the competition stronger.”
This is not the first time that football has tried to shed light on racism.
Players and coaches from the Premier League and other top leagues, for example, have knelt ahead of kickoffs all season long to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement – to encouragement of league team captains and with the support of league officials.
But some players and even entire teams, frustrated by the lack of concrete progress on racial issues and feeling the gesture has become more efficient than productive, have recently stopped participating.
Crystal Palace striker Wilfried Zaha said he came to see the kneeling as “degradingAnd said he would stop doing it and focus his efforts elsewhere. Brentford, a second-tier England league team, stopped hitting a knee before games in February. While the players said in a press release that they always supported anti-racist efforts, they said, “We believe we can use our time and energies to promote racial equality in other ways.”
The social media blackout will come as a whole series of matches in multiple leagues are played, including one between Manchester United and defending Premier League champions Liverpool.
Edleen John, the Football Association’s director of international relations, said English football will not stop pushing for change after next weekend.
“It is simply unacceptable that people in English football and in society in general continue to be subjected to discriminatory online abuse on a daily basis, with no real consequences for the perpetrators,” said John. “Social media companies must be held accountable if they continue to fail to live up to their moral and social responsibilities in the face of this endemic problem.”