Football clubs and players boycott social media, but what next?

Will the "show of solidarity against online abuse" lead to companies taking a stronger stance?

The recent May Day bank holiday was a strange one for many. This oddity had nothing to do with the pandemic or the weather, but was due to the decision by the sporting fraternity to boycott all social media. 

West Ham joined others in the decision not to post on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, as well as Snapchat, TikTok, LinkedIn, YouTube and foreign-language social media accounts between 3pm on Friday 30 April and 11.59pm on Monday 3 May. 

This was a major stance to highlight the racial abuse that many suffer on such platforms and the believed lack of action taken by the organisations which run these social platforms. 

The problem is huge but although I support the Black Lives Matter campaign wholeheartedly and feel that racism has no place in our society, I question if such a boycott will have had any real effect. 

After all, just after 8am on Tuesday 4 May, many of us were flooded with posts on all platforms. It seemed as if the sporting fraternity could not wait to get back on line.

I am not a major social media user. Yes, I have my various accounts but having learnt my lesson regarding commenting on such platforms, I shy away from full participation. 

Once burnt, twice shy is the motto but when I was naive and young, I felt the brunt twice, yes I didn’t learn that first time. 

The first time was when I criticised one of our owners and received threats of violence. 

Now this is nothing compared to what many receive but my name is a slight giveaway to my ethnicity.

Yes I may be white but I am also Welsh so I’m sure you can imagine the term regularly used against me.

It’s the form of abuse I regularly hear on the terraces at West Ham whenever we play a Welsh team or a Welsh player is playing for the opposing team. 

The second occasion occurred when I had the audacity to comment on an actress who my young daughter loved and whom we had seen perform in the theatre. 

My daughter was amongst many who waited at the stage door for a quick autograph or photo opportunity. 

Every performer, including those with a greater star quality, all came out to spend time with the paying public except this one actress, who decided to leave by a back entrance.

The next day this actress tweeted how much she was enjoying the performance run and I casually commented on how disappointed my daughter had been not to meet her. 

For the next 48 hours, I was inundated with abusive tweets defending her actions, some of them quite threatening. I received in excess of 300. 

I’m old and thick-skinned enough to shrug my shoulders. It was only when this actress commented in a slightly positive way that the tweets finally dried up and my polite initial comment became old news. I had two instances but imagine getting this form of abuse time and time again. 

Social media is a great tool but for many it is addictive. I do not want to see a photo of what someone is having for dinner or how many miles they have run. 

It amazes me how many post that they are on holiday, it’s almost a calling card for the burglary fraternity.

I also do not want to see racism of any type. I get frustrated when the person targeted resends the offending comment to others thus subjecting us all to the comments of those in the social gutter. 

But let’s not forget that social media abuse is not just regarding racism. There are sexist, mental health, and other comments that are offensive to many. 

We live in a PC world and some may say we have gone too far. Removing an episode of Fawlty Towers gives the anti-PC brigade something to grab with both hands as a good example of going too far. 

But a stance has to be made and it is no surprise that the seventies show ‘Love thy Neighbour’ can’t be found on any satellite channel.

It’s difficult to remember a time when social media wasn’t a part of our everyday life. It may surprise some that it has been with us for over 25 years. 

Classmates was introduced in 1995 but it was not until the introduction of Facebook in 2004 that things really began to ramp up. 

Facebook was soon followed by Twitter in 2006 and then swiftly by a whole swathe of others. By 2012 Facebook had over a billion users and it continues to grow. 

Originally social media sites were a way of communicating with other users but have evolved over time. 

Sadly it seems that the companies themselves have been slow to act. The problem is the sheer number of subscribers. It is easy to ban certain high profile individuals, Donald Trump for example, but it has been slow to act quickly on others. 

Social media is reactive but fails to be proactive, often acting after the event has occurred.

However technology has moved on and it is widely believed that those who own such sites have the ability to be more proactive with triggers in place to prevent abusive posts on their websites.

The problem we have is that in today’s life we cannot do without social media.   

So will the boycott make a difference? I fear not, but it has highlighted a coming together of all sporting organisations and participants that the quest to eradicate online abuse will go on until social media companies actually take action to protect everyone from hurtful and damaging comments by eradicating online hate. 

A token few days to me is not the answer. A permanent boycott may be the answer. But would the organisations who orchestrated this temporary ban be up for that with the financial risks that could result? I doubt it. 

It is, of course, too early yet to see if the temporary boycott will have any effect. If anything it has highlighted the concern but let’s not forget the old adage of today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s chip paper. 

We will have to see what if anything these few days of social media silence has achieved. 

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