Sport united in the fight against online abuse last weekend, as some of the country’s biggest teams, players and organisations, boycotted social media.
Pressure has been mounting on social media companies over the past year to take action, with greater attention being drawn to the seemingly increasing instances of abuse against sport stars.
Much of the focus has been on racist abuse, particularly against footballers, and this issue came to a head last month when Swansea City, who have had a number of players on the receiving end of racist abuse, boycotted social media platforms for a week along with fellow Championship side Birmingham City.
While the boycott was instigated by English football, the move garnered support across the entire sporting sphere, with star names from rugby union, rugby league, cricket and motorsport all getting behind the campaign.
It took place across a four-day period over the bank holiday weekend. Fast-forward to now, has anything changed?
The simple, unfortunate reality is that it hasn’t. In this first week since the boycott, we have already seen abuse resurfacing. Wales winger Rabbi Matondo, who is on loan at Stoke City from Schalke, shared examples of racist abuse he’s received since the weekend. Matondo has already been in the news this season in relation to this issue, having shared abuse he received during March’s international break. Raheem Sterling also received racist abuse in the wake of Manchester City’s Champions League victory over PSG, less than 48 hours after the boycott came to an end.
The question is: what next?
Facebook’s response to the boycott was to announce they are set to release ‘new tools to help prevent people seeing abusive messages from strangers.’
For many players and fans, though, this simply won’t cut it. This isn’t tackling the root of the problem – the people who are actually giving out this abuse – it just feels like yet another token response.
Kick It Out have outlined four points the social media companies need to address:
- Improved prevention- to help stop online abuse in the first place
- Account verification – to deter people from writing hateful comments while anonymous
- Proper punishments – current punishments for online abuse are insufficient
- Government intervention – fast-track the Online Harms Bill through parliament
For me, the second and third points there are the most important – there needs to be greater accountability for those who are giving the abuse. This is where the likes of Facebook need to be focusing their effort – not just by adding functionality for victims to selectively view who messages them.
The widespread social media boycott was a big statement, but not big enough. It looks like there’s a lot of work still to be done to eliminate hate on social media.