- Calls for fresh measures to tackle hate and discrimination
- Boycott to run from Friday afternoon until end of Monday
Leading sports bodies will begin an 81-hour boycott of social media on Friday by stepping up their demands for companies such as Facebook and Twitter to do more to stop online abuse being sent or seen.
The Premier League, English Football League and the anti-racism campaign Kick It Out are among those calling for fresh measures to tackle hate and discrimination – including a requirement for social media giants to display a warning if a user writes an abusive message, and to ask them to enter personal data if they wish to send it. They also want social media companies to have to submit a detailed quarterly report, outlining efforts they have made to prevent abuse, so they can be held more accountable.
The boycott, first announced by a large number of football clubs and players and the Football Association, covers the bank holiday weekend’s programme of fixtures, from 3pm on Friday until 11.59pm on Monday.
Other sporting bodies have since joined – including the England and Wales Cricket Board, Premiership Rugby and the Lawn Tennis Association – highlighting the need for the social media giants to do more to eradicate online hate. Lewis Hamilton gave his backing to the campaign on Thursday. Guardian Sport announced on Thursday it would take part, as did Sky Sports.
On Thursday the Uefa president, Aleksander Ceferin, also gave his unequivocal backing to the initiative, saying: “Allowing a culture of hatred to grow with impunity is dangerous, very dangerous, not only for football but for society as a whole. We’ve had enough of these cowards who hide behind their anonymity to spew out their noxious ideologies.”
Many of the organisations involved in the boycott will post a message at 9am on Friday saying: “Social media companies must do more to #StopOnlineAbuse. Join us and switch off too, as we collectively demand change.”
A further message will follow at 2.55pm, explaining the reasons for the boycott and the changes that need to be made:“We want to demonstrate our collective anger at the constant abuse on social media received by footballers and people in the game, as well as others across the world, which goes without any real-world consequences for perpetrators.
“We know that a boycott alone will not eradicate the scourge of online discriminatory abuse, which is why we will continue to take proactive steps to call for change. We will not stop challenging social media companies until we see enough progress.”
Social media companies will also be urged to do more in three key areas:
Put stronger preventative and takedown measures in place to stop discriminatory abuse being sent or seen.
Be accountable for safety on platforms and protect users by implementing effective verification.
Ensure real-life consequences for online discriminatory abuse.
The boycott, which is being led by Kick It Out, also calls on the government to make sure its forthcoming online safety bill will make social media companies more accountable.
Under plans announced last year by the department for digital, culture, media and sport, Facebook and Twitter could face fines of up to 10% of annual turnover for breaching duty of care rules if the bill is passed.
“We want social media companies to do more and to act faster,” said Sanjay Bhandari, the chair of Kick It Out. “We need them to make their platforms a hostile environment for trolls rather than for the football family. We need the government to hold its nerve and keep its promises to regulate.”
Will Woodward, head of sport at Guardian News & Media, said Guardian Sport wanted to “show solidarity in the campaign against racism and other forms of online discrimination”.
“We generally aren’t in favour of boycotts or blackouts and believe news and robust comment are essential. But the relentless abuse must stop. It’s important to take a stand.”
Ahead of the boycott, the Professional Footballers Association labelled Twitter’s response to abusive posts aimed towards players as “absolutely unacceptable”.
A PFA investigation has shown that 31 out of 56 racist and discriminatory tweets posted during Project Restart remain live on the social media site. The PFA said it notified Twitter of the posts in November last year. The PFA said it also gave Twitter a list of 18 tweets posted before Project Restart, with 15 of those still live in April.
Simone Pound, the PFA’s director of equality, diversity and inclusion, said: “This situation is absolutely unacceptable. While the platforms repeatedly stress that they are doing all they can to combat online abuse, extreme racist abuse remains visible on Twitter five months after we provided them with clear evidence of abusive content.
“For people to believe that social networks are taking this issue seriously, we need to see them addressing the issue and finding solutions.”
A spokesperson for Twitter said it was “resolute in our commitment to ensure the football conversation on our service is safe for fans, players and everyone involved in the game”, that the platform had improved its proactive measures, and that 90% of the abuse targeting players was now removed without the need for a user report.
“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,” the spokesperson said.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.