English football, including clubs in the Premier League and Women’s Super League, will undertake a three-day social media boycott next week in response to “the ongoing and sustained discriminatory abuse received online by players and many other connected to football.”
High-profile players such as Manchester United‘s Marcus Rashford and Lauren James, Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling and Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold have reported that they have received racist abuse on social media platforms.
The growing volume of incidents prompted the governing bodies and leagues in English football to write to Twitter and Facebook in February, which also owns Instagram, demanding stricter enforcement of anti-discriminatory regulations.
Leading figures in the English game remain unsatisfied by the action taken by social media companies, however, and it has been confirmed that a boycott of all platforms will now be imposed to cover the full programme of fixtures next weekend including Manchester United taking on Liverpool in the Premier League.
“The [Football Association] FA, Premier League, [English Football Leauge] EFL, FA Women’s Super League, FA Women’s Championship, [Professional Footballers Association] PFA, [League Managers Association] LMA, [Professional Game Match Officials Limited] PGMOL, Kick It Out and the [Football Supporters Association] FSA will unite for a social media boycott from 15.00 [GMT] on Friday April 30 to 23.59 [GMT] on Monday May 3, in response to the ongoing and sustained discriminatory abuse received online by players and many others connected to football,” a joint statement said.
“This has been scheduled to take place across a full fixture programme in the men’s and women’s professional game and will see clubs across the Premier League, EFL, WSL and Women’s Championship switch off their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
“As a collective, the game recognises the considerable reach and value of social media to our sport. The connectivity and access to supporters who are at the heart of football remains vital.
“However, the boycott shows English football coming together to emphasise that social media companies must do more to eradicate online hate, while highlighting the importance of educating people in the ongoing fight against discrimination.
“In our letter of February 2021, English football outlined its requests of social media companies, urging filtering, blocking and swift takedowns of offensive posts, an improved verification process and re-registration prevention, plus active assistance for law enforcement agencies to identify and prosecute originators of illegal content.
“While some progress has been made, we reiterate those requests today in an effort to stem the relentless flow of discriminatory messages and ensure that there are real-life consequences for purveyors of online abuse across all platforms.
“Boycott action from football in isolation will, of course, not eradicate the scourge of online discriminatory abuse, but it will demonstrate that the game is willing to take voluntary and proactive steps in this continued fight.
“Finally, while football takes a stand, we urge the UK Government to ensure its Online Safety Bill will bring in strong legislation to make social media companies more accountable for what happens on their platforms, as discussed at the DCMS [Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] Online Abuse roundtable earlier this week.”
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters added that the league will continue to lobby the social media companies to do more to combat the scourge of online abuse.
“Racist behaviour of any form is unacceptable and the appalling abuse we are seeing players receive on social media platforms cannot be allowed to continue,” Masters said.
“The Premier League and our clubs stand alongside football in staging this boycott to highlight the urgent need for social media companies to do more in eliminating racial hatred.
“We will not stop challenging social media companies and want to see significant improvements in their policies and processes to tackle online discriminatory abuse on their platforms.
“Football is a diverse sport, which brings together communities and cultures from all backgrounds and this diversity makes the competition stronger. No Room For Racism represents all the work we do to promote equality, diversity and inclusion and tackling discrimination.”
Chief Executive of the Football Supporters’ Association Kevin Miles said: “The Football Supporters’ Association is fully behind the game’s efforts to stamp out online hate and discrimination and will join next weekend’s social media boycott. Much media attention has rightly focused on the vile abuse aimed at players, managers and journalists in the men’s and women’s game and we see that aimed at fans groups too. It has to stop.
“Many of our most active fan groups tell us that they have received disgusting abuse when they are doing nothing more than trying to represent their supporter base. It’s a threat to the very existence of supporter organisations who are run by volunteers in their spare time. As fans we stand with players, managers, referees and all in the game in calling for the social media companies to step up.”