Rangers, Swansea City and Birmingham City have all announced that they will boycott platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram from Thursday evening to protest the lack of action of social media companies against online abuse.
The move, which is hoped will be followed by others, is a welcome one following repeated silence from the leadership of social media companies on the issue. Several players have been targets of racial abuse in recent months from both opposition fans and their own support. It seems now a common occurrence to see barrages of racist comments under a player’s Instagram post after a game. Footballers often post a screenshot to their story of vile private messages they have received with even more abhorrent content.
In a public statement, Rangers managing director Stewart Robertson explained that the government should intervene on the issue. “Everyone is losing patience with the lack of action from social media companies,” he said.
On the incident, Kamara told ITV News: “I’ve seen [Slavia Prague] fans, how they’ve reacted, and I’ll get abuse probably every day on my Instagram”
A player who has been particularly targeted in recent weeks is Glen Kamara. The Rangers midfielder accused Slavia Prague defender Ondrej Kudela of a racist comment in the Scottish club’s Europa League loss to the Czech outfit in late March. On the incident, Kamara told ITV News: “I’ve seen [Slavia Prague] fans, how they’ve reacted, and I’ll get abuse probably every day on my Instagram”.
One of the demands of the clubs participating in the boycott is that of verification of social media accounts, to be able to quickly hold those guilty of abuse accountable. Various ways of verifying one’s identity have been put forward previously, such as using a government ID, including that of parents/guardians for users under 18. Rangers noted in their statement that “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”.
Such an idea will no doubt prove controversial, with numerous people uncomfortable with all of their social media posts being attached to their name. Potential risks include being able to be searched by anyone, including employers and family members. Additionally, various people are concerned with potential privacy implications, handing over their government ID to companies who already make millions selling users’ data to advertisers.
This boycott is a positive step, and it is good that some clubs have taken a position of leadership on the issue where others haven’t
Understandably, social media users may be worried about where their personal data may end up. Facebook have previously decided to verify political advertisers to prevent any fake news and interference in elections, but the requirement of verification of everyday users is likely to decrease their user base – and subsequently the amount of users they can advertise to.
Social media has taken over all our lives since the mid-2000s, but the law has struggled to keep up with the huge amount of content posted online every day. The culture of these websites means that users often feel free to attack public figures knowing they are very unlikely to face any consequences.
Every day, footballers are abused on social media just for performing their jobs. Fair criticism of a bad performance is allowed and should be encouraged, but racial abuse has no place in online discourse. This boycott is a positive step, and it is good that some clubs have taken a position of leadership on the issue where others haven’t. Racial abuse on social media won’t be dealt with unless many clubs challenge the power of social media companies, stand up for their players and push for government legislation to hold these organisations accountable.
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