British soccer takes aim at social media platforms over racist abuse

Three British soccer clubs said Thursday that they would boycott all social media for a week to protest the “abhorrent” racism and abuse directed at some of their players.

The campaign, which began with the Welsh club Swansea City, is the most significant action in what has been a growing movement within British soccer to put pressure on social media companies to crack down on racism, which has led some to call for increased regulation and an end to the anonymity that provides a shield to many abusers.

The Swansea City soccer club said in a statement that the playing and coaching staff would not post anything on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, YouTube or TikTok starting at 5 p.m. BST (12 p.m. ET) Thursday. Swansea City Ladies, the club’s community trust and senior administrative staff, will also take part in the boycott, the statement added.

“This decision has been taken as a result of conversations between senior club staff, players and management,” Swansea City said. “As a football club, we have seen several of our players subjected to abhorrent abuse in the past seven weeks alone, and we feel it is right to take a stand against behaviour that is a blight on our sport, and society at large.”

Swansea players Jamal Lowe, Yan Dhanda and Ben Cabango have all been sent online racist abuse this season.

After Lowe posted on Instagram Saturday, one user responded with two monkey emojis alongside derogatory messages. When he reposted the message on a subsequent Instagram story, Lowe wrote that there were “some idiots out there.”

Jamal Lowe of Swansea City in action during the Sky Bet Championship match between Birmingham City and Swansea City at St Andrews on April 2, 2021 in Birmingham, England.Athena Pictures / Getty Images

Swansea City’s statement said that club Chief Executive Julian Winter sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to reiterate the need for the companies to do more in the fight against online abuse, which has seen players and managers from a number of teams targeted.

Last month, former Arsenal and France striker Thierry Henry said he was removing himself from social media because of racism and bullying across platforms.

Before kickoff in Premier League and English Football League games, most players, officials and staff have been taking a knee since June to show support for the movement for racial equality.

Within hours of Swansea City’s announcement, England’s Birmingham City, which also plays in the Championship League — one below the top Premier League — announced in a statement that it would follow suit and would not “publish any content across Men’s and Women’s Club channels for a period of seven days.”

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“The Club stands in solidarity with Swansea City Football Club,” it said, adding: “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.

“We understand how social media can be used as a force for good, but at present do not recognise this trait in such arenas and believe firmly that those responsible for these platforms are not doing enough to stamp out the unacceptable abuse and discrimination that they are housing.”

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In Scotland, Rangers Football Club also said in a statement that its players and management would join the boycott to “underline the ongoing concerns over a lack of accountability and responsibility from social media outlets.”

Both Twitter and Facebook, which also owns Instagram, have previously said they were working to tackle online hate.

Also on Thursday, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson handed over control of all of his social media accounts to The Cybersmile Foundation, a nonprofit that helps to tackle online bullying and abuse and provides support for victims of online hate campaigns.

Henderson has long been a campaigner in the fight against the rising levels of abuse and discrimination within the game and discussed the issue with the British government this year.

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