The Time For Empty Condemnation Is Over – Online Trolling Must End Now
February 15, 2021
In recent weeks, calls for social media companies to finally clamp down on racial abuse and trolling has intensified after more footballers in the UK publicly highlighted the abuse that they are subjected to online on a daily basis.
David Alexander, Managing Director of Calacus PR, believes it is finally time for these organisations to take action and restrict this messaging across their platforms.
If social media is an echo chamber for society at large, it underlines the challenges faced by sports stars in the digital age.
Twitter, Instagram and Facebook provide a platform to showcase everything from brand endorsements to charitable initiatives and allow a direct connection with fans which has long since faded in real life.
For all the good that taking the knee has done to highlight the importance of diversity and the fight against racism, social channels have also provided an opportunity for keyboard warriors to abuse the very stars that they should be supporting.
Manchester United have been at the forefront of abuse in recent times, with Marcus Rashford, Axel Tuanzebe and Lauren James all subject to racist and sexist abuse.
“Multiple stakeholders have exclaimed their shock and determination to push for change – but haven’t we been here before, year after year, platform after platform?”
In the case of Tuanzebe, United manager Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said: “It’s just incredible we have these scenes still, this abuse in 2021. They hide behind social media and be anonymous. It’s unacceptable and it’s disgusting. They’re not Man United fans when this happens. We’re all standing behind every single one of our players.”
Manchester United Women’s head coach Casey Stoney said: “It’s hard for me to comprehend as a white person in terms of being able to understand what she [Lauren James] lives through every single day and what she has experienced growing up. It’s utterly disgusting.”
Rashford, who has done so much great work helping under-privileged children during the lockdowns, refused to share the abuse he has suffered and instead posted: “Humanity and social media at its worst. Yes I’m a black man and I live every day proud that I am. No one, or no one comment, is going to make me feel any different. So sorry if you were looking for a strong reaction, you’re just simply not going to get it here.”
Chelsea defender Reece James, Lauren’s brother, also experienced racism and shared a post on social media with an example of the abuse he has suffered from online trolls.
We’ve also seen controversial referee Mike Dean forced to call the police after his family were threatened online following two red cards in successive matches.
Dean sent off Southampton defender Jan Bednarek and then West Ham midfielder Tomas Soucek only for both decisions to be overturned on review.
A petition was launched to get Dean sacked while fans wished him dead.
The response to all this abuse is understandably full of condemnation for the abuse those targeted are subjected to.
Multiple stakeholders have exclaimed their shock and determination to push for change – but haven’t we been here before, year after year, platform after platform?
Words are nothing without actions to back them up.
Managing Director of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), Michael Riley, said: “Threats and abuse of this nature are totally unacceptable and we fully support Mike’s decision to report these messages his family received to the police.
“Nobody should be victim of abhorrent messages like this. Online abuse is unacceptable in any walk of life and more needs to be done to tackle the problem.”
Richard Masters, Chief Executive of the Premier League, said: “It is completely unacceptable that we are seeing abusive behaviour aimed at players, managers and match officials regularly on social media platforms.
The Football Association also posted a strongly-worded statement, saying: “Social media companies need to step up and take accountability and action to ban abusers from their platforms.
“We will continue to do everything we can to stamp discrimination out of the game, but we implore government to act quickly and bring the appropriate legislation so this abuse has real-life consequences.”
UK Government Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden reacted and stated: “We are going to change the law to make social media companies more accountable for what happens on their platforms, and they can start showing their duty of care to players today by weeding out racist abuse now. Players must not be abused for doing their jobs – enough is enough.”
Instagram said that it will begin banning people who send racist abuse to others through direct messages: “We’re announcing some new measures, including removing the accounts of people who send abusive messages, and developing new controls to help reduce the abuse people see in their DMs.”
Facebook UK head of content policy Fadzai Madzingira said it was “saddening” to see continued abuse on the platforms.
Madzingira commented: “I’m horrified at the type of abuse that people, especially these footballers, have to deal with on the basis of who they are, whether it’s their race or their religion or their gender, and as a company, we’re disappointed to see that sort of behaviour that plays out offline also playing out on our platform.”
“Online hate thrives because there is a culture of impunity – people feel free to say what they want because they are confident there will be no consequences.”
Twitter also released a statement, saying: “Racist behaviour has no place on our service and when we identify accounts that violate any of the Twitter Rules, we take enforcement action.
“We have proactively engaged and continue to collaborate with our valued partners in football to identify ways to tackle this issue collectively and will continue to play our part in curbing this unacceptable behaviour – both online and offline.”
Sanjay Bhandari, Executive Chair at Kick It Out, accepts that the lack of consequences is behind the ongoing online abuse.
He said: “Online hate thrives because there is a culture of impunity – people feel free to say what they want because they are confident there will be no consequences. That must change. Online hate must have real-world consequences.
“We will only change that culture by working as a team and we will now meet on a regular basis as a working group to drive change. I welcome the commitment of football and social media to turn words of intent into meaningful action.”
“Confidence in organisations large and small erodes when statements and declarations fail to result in any substantial change.”
Confidence in organisations large and small erodes when statements and declarations fail to result in any substantial change – and the very fact that we are still talking about this underlines how little progress social media platforms or the authorities have made.
The FA has joined the Premier League, English Football League, the women’s professional game, Professional Footballers’ Association, League Managers’ Association, PGMOL and Kick It Out in writing to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s founder, chairman and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg pleading for action.
The letter said: “As recent weeks have seen the levels of vicious, offensive abuse from users of your services aimed at footballers and match officials rise even further.
“We write to ask that for reasons of basic human decency you use the power of your global systems to bring this to an end.”
Sport is clearly a high profile channel for online abuse right now and can take a leading role in exposing trolls to put pressure on social media platforms and authorities to help create positive change.
That could result in clubs and federations banning abusers from attending matches and a national campaign of education to ensure future generations understand that racism, bigotry or abuse of any kind is unacceptable.
Enough certainly is enough and it will be fascinating to see if condemnation is matched by real action.