British sports boycott social media giants over online abuse and discrimination

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LONDON – The world’s largest social media platforms are being boycotted by UK sports teams, athletes and leading sports organizations for lack of action on online abuse.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will be avoided from Friday 3:00 PM London time until Monday 11:59 PM.

The boycott — embraced by sports like football, rugby and cricket — comes as the US tech giants continue to be criticized for failing to remove racist and sexist abuse posted on their platforms.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, and Twitter said racism and other forms of abuse have no place on their platforms.

Anti-discrimination organizations such as Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card are involved in the boycott, as are the sport’s governing bodies.

Kick It Out said in September that there was a 42% increase in reports of discrimination in professional football last season, with the number of incidents rising from 313 to 446.

Thierry Henry, former World Cup winner and Arsenal record scorer who removed himself from social media last month, hailed the boycott as a “start” in the fight against racism and discrimination.

“(What) the world of English football is doing right now and what’s going to happen over the weekend, people ask me, ‘Is it enough, the weekend?'” he told CNN this week. “And I’m like, ‘It’s a start.’ You know, you can’t be too greedy if you don’t like that. It’s a start.”

Watford Football Club captain Troy Deeney told the BBC on Friday that many athletes receive abusive messages online on a daily basis, while some people experience it every hour.

On Friday morning, Alex Scott, who played for Arsenal and England before switching to broadcaster, urged the public to join in. “Join in and take out too, as we collectively demand change,” she wrote on Twitter.

Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters said in a statement: “Racist behavior in any form is unacceptable and the horrific abuse we see players on social media platforms must not continue.”

He added: “The Premier League and our clubs stand side by side with football in organizing this boycott to highlight the urgent need for social media companies to do more to eradicate racial hatred. We will not stop it challenge social media companies and want to see significant improvements in their policies and processes to address online discriminatory abuse on their platforms.”

Fines up to 10% of global annual turnover

Ahead of the boycott, Manchester United wrote on Twitter: “Since September 2019, online abuse against our players has increased by 350%. We need change.” Separately, Everton Football Club said via Twitter: “Enough is enough” and used hashtags “#StopOnlineAbuse” and “NoRoomForRacism”.

British Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden wrote in British newspapers this week that social media companies will face “severe sanctions” if they fail to address racial abuse. “We can be fined up to ten percent of global annual sales,” he wrote. “For a company like Facebook or YouTube, that could be billions.”

Companies such as Adidas, Barclays, Budweiser, Cazoo and gambling app Smarkets are participating in the boycott, as are broadcasters such as BT Sport and talkSPORT.

It’s not the first time the social media companies have faced backlash for not removing objectionable content. Last year, more than 1,000 groups and companies took part in a boycott, hoping to pressure Facebook to take tougher measures to stop the spread of hate speech and misinformation on its platform. Participants included HP, Verizon, Coca-Cola, Diageo and Ben & Jerry’s.

A Facebook spokesperson said it is against the company’s policy to harass or discriminate against people on Facebook or Instagram.

“We agree and have already made progress on many of the players’ suggestions, including cracking down on people who break our rules in DMs,” the spokesperson said in a statement shared with CNBC.

“We also recently announced that from next week we will provide new tools, based on consultations with footballers and anti-discrimination experts, to prevent people from seeing abusive messages from strangers. We will continue to work with UK police on hate speech , and respond to valid legal requests for information, which may be vital to investigations. We will continue to listen to feedback and continue to fight hate and racism on our platform.”

Twitter said it has deleted more than 7,000 tweets in the UK since September 12 targeting the football conversation with violations of Twitter rules.

“This represents about 0.02% of the total football conversation in the UK and does not reflect the vast majority of people having lively discussions about football on Twitter,” a spokesperson said.

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