It is time for social media companies to get their house in order.
Trolls, racists and vile posters of abuse should not be given any platform to spew their opinions, either anonymously or in person. Action needs to be taken – and it is great to see high-profile football clubs and personalities taking a stand over the issue.
Thierry Henry last week announced he had deactivated all his social media accounts, vowing only to return when changes are made to protect users from racism, bullying and abuse. It was a powerful message from the French World Cup winner and Arsenal legend. When someone of his stature speaks out, others sit up and take note.
"I thought it was time to make a stand and time to make people realise it is not OK to get abused online, it's not OK to be bullied or harassed online,” Henry said.
"The impact it can have on your mental health is second to none, we know people are committing suicides because of it. Enough is enough. We need actions.
"It is too easy to get an account and get away with it at times."
Henry’s actions have been followed up by a number of clubs this week. On Thursday, Rangers called for “clear and direct action” from social media companies after joining Birmingham and Swansea in a week-long boycott of all platforms to combat abuse and discrimination.
Swansea took a stance over online abuse on Thursday after three of their players were targeted, declaring “enough is enough” as head coach Steve Cooper said he hoped other clubs would follow their example.
Birmingham and Rangers quickly did so, with the newly-crowned Scottish champions starting their week-long boycott of all social media channels at 7pm on Thursday night.
Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara has described facing a barrage of racist abuse on social media since his clash with Slavia Plague defender Ondrej Kudela during last month’s Europa League tie.
A statement on Rangers’ website read: “Rangers can confirm that as of 7pm this evening (8th April), our players and management will take part in a week-long boycott of all social media channels.
“This is to underline the ongoing concerns over a lack of accountability and responsibility from social media outlets.”
Rangers managing director Stewart Robertson, who has arranged to meet Facebook and Instagram, added: “Having spoken to a wide range of clubs across the United Kingdom, we know these concerns are shared by all clubs and it is fair to say everyone is losing patience with the lack of action from social media companies.
“Rangers’ hope is that clear and direct action is taken from social media platforms. The basic verification of users, as part of the sign-up process, to any social media platform, will ensure that users are both identifiable and accountable for their actions and words. We will raise this next week in our scheduled meetings.
“Rangers has driven its flagship Everyone Anyone campaign forward rigorously, drawing praise and support from fellow clubs, governing bodies and politicians, and we will continue to stand firmly against all forms of discrimination. Enough is enough.
“We would hope that social media companies recognise the benefit of verified accounts. If they don’t, it is time for government to step in and legislate. As a club, we will continue to consider all options which increase pressure on social media platforms until they begin working proactively in the interests of wider society.”
Liverpool this week called for “the strongest possible preventative measures” to be taken over racist abuse on social media after Trent Alexander-Arnold, Naby Keita and Sadio Mane became the latest players to be targeted.
Championship outfit Swansea, a Premier League club until 2018, have over one million followers on Twitter and a social media reach of three-and-a-half million on their various platforms.
Cooper did not rule out the club coming off some platforms completely if social media companies do not address the issue to their satisfaction.
Asked about the possibility of a permanent boycott, Cooper said: “Yes, is the answer to that. This stance has been a collective from top to bottom of the football club, and if we need to do something further then we’ll definitely have those discussions.”
Birmingham became the second EFL club to impose a week-long social media boycott, saying the issue must be tackled together.
A Birmingham statement read: “Regardless of who such abhorrent abuse on social media is directed towards, Blues do not believe this should determine who speaks out against it and that making this stance together is paramount to ridding the game and society of this evil.
“We know how players and staff at the football club use social media in both personal and professional capacities, therefore, are acutely aware of how these platforms are further becoming a hotbed for abusive, offensive and discriminatory content.
“By removing our content from these platforms, we intend to starve the perpetrators of such abusive and discriminatory behaviour of a space in which they can carry out offences that are not only criminal but deeply harmful to the well-being of groups and individuals.”
It’s a start. Three clubs and a high-profile player. It’s a message to Twitter and Facebook, but an even more powerful message would be if these clubs were joined by many more. Imagine the impact if clubs as huge as Manchester United (25million Twitter followers) and Liverpool (17million) boycotted. And never mind a week, make it a month.
Rivals on the pitch but united against online abuse off it. Forget the commercial and ‘brand’ issues – social awareness and responsibility is more important here.
Enough is enough, and football needs to keep leading the way.