Football News

Squawka joins social media boycott campaign against online abuse

By Will Hall

Published: 12:54, 30 April 2021

Squawka website coverage will continue but no posts will be made on our social media channels from Friday 3pm to Monday 23:59 as part of English football’s campaign against racist abuse and discrimination online.

The boycott is intended to pressure major social media companies including Twitter and Facebook to be more active in eradicating racist abuse on their platforms.

The PFA reported 56 abusive Twitter posts sent to players including Wilfried Zaha and Raheem Sterling five months ago in winter 2020, but 31 have yet to be removed and remain accessible on the site.

Sanjay Bhandari, who is chair of equality and inclusion organisation Kick It Out, said: “Social media is now sadly a regular vessel for toxic abuse.

“This boycott signifies our collective anger at the damage this causes to the people who play, watch and work in the game. 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.

“We need social media companies to make their platforms a hostile environment for trolls rather than for the football family.”


How to act against online hate:


The Premier League, Women’s Super League, Premiership rugby and English cricket have joined the campaign, along with UK broadcasters Sky Sports and BT Sport. The window covers the Premier League’s entire gameweek 34 schedule, which includes Manchester United v Liverpool.

Explaining their decision to take part, Manchester United released figures showing “there has been a 350% increase in abuse directed towards the club’s players” since September 2019.

Of 3,300 posts targeting United players, it categorised 83% as racist while another 8% were homophobic or transphobic. A United press release added: “The vast majority of racist posts contained either the N word (and variants on the spelling) or emojis used with racist intent.”

In response to the PFA study, a spokesperson for Twitter said: “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.”

Facebook, who own Instagram, told the BBC in February: “We thank the footballers who are raising awareness of this abuse. We know that we have more work to do. It is horrifying the abuse that they are receiving.”

United suspended three season-ticket holders over online abuse targeting Tottenham and South Korean forward Son Heung-min following a mid-April game.

Other cases of professional players becoming victims of racist abuse online from just this month include Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, Naby Keita, and Sadio Mane.

Meanwhile former Arsenal striker Ian Wright was subjected to racism and death threats by a teenager over Instagram because they had lost a game of FIFA in May 2019, with Wright in their team. A trial was held earlier this year, but the abuser escaped a criminal conviction.

“An individual wished death on me because of my skin colour,” wrote Wright in response to the verdict.

“No judge’s claims of ‘naivety’ or ‘immaturity’ will be acceptable to us.”


What players are saying and doing:

  • Thierry Henry removed himself from all forms in social media over a month ago.
  • Sheffield United forward David McGoldrick was subjected to online racist abuse last year and said: “It has happened to many players. Something needs to happen. It is too easily to get racially abused on there.”
  • Watford striker Troy Deeney, who says he receives abuse on a daily basis targeted at himself and his family, told the Evening Standard: “[Thierry Henry] made a real telling point. If you try post a video on Instagram and it has got a Justin Bieber song, if that’s not copyrighted, you can’t do it. It doesn’t even allow you to post it. But you can call someone a n*****, you can put a monkey emoji, and it doesn’t mean anything apparently.”
  • Lianne Sanderson, winner of five Women’s Premier League titles with Arsenal including the Quadruple in 2007/08, wrote on Twitter: “Today is the day, we unite and hopefully make change. Will it make homophobic, racist, sexist and ignorant people disappear? No, but what it will do is make people realise enough is enough.”
  • In early April, Jordan Henderson gave control of his personal social media accounts to an anti-cyberbullying charity.

What can authorities do?

The UK government has threatened to impose “very large fines – indeed up to 10% of global turnover” on social media companies who fail in their duty to protect users from discrimination and abuse. “For some of these big tech firms, that’s running to billions of pounds,” added Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden in February.

There are also plans to introduce a new Online Safety Bill, which could force companies to take responsibility for the safety of their users under law.

Kick It Out’s Bhandari added: “We need the Government to hold its nerve and keep its promises to regulate. The Online Safety Bill could be a game changer and we aim to help make that happen. There should be no space for hate and everyone can play their part.”

As for what technical measures social media companies should take, suggestions made by Kick It Out include “preventative filtering and blocking measures to stop discriminatory abuse being sent or seen” as well as “a warning message to be displayed if a user writes an abusive message and need to enter personal data if they wish to send the message.”

The organisation also calls for “real-life consequences for online discriminatory abuse,” along with “robust, reliable and quick measures in place if abusive material is sent or posted” and “transparent quarterly reports on the work social media companies are doing, internally and externally, to eradicate abuse on their platforms.”