This weekend, sports clubs and individuals across the UK will be taking part in a boycott of social media, in the hopes of putting pressure on social media companies to do more to tackle online hate.
The initiative, started by the English Football League, has gained the support of other domestic leagues and clubs such as the Premier League and Women’s Super League, as well as Formula One Drivers and many other sports. Those taking part will fall silent on social media from 3pm on Friday 30th April until 11:59pm on Monday 3rd.
But why is this important, and what to the doubters who say it will do nothing?
As mentioned in “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix, we as social media participants are both the product and consumer of these platforms. We consume others’ content as well as advertisements and product placement, bringing revenue back to the companies to continue to develop their platforms. As such, this boycott is not aimed at stopping online abuse altogether; if anything, the reduction of traffic from those participating will probably further highlight any abusive posts. It’s about pressuring companies to make lasting differences, by introducing identity verification processes and strengthening their policies on abuse.
A combination of the fact that people are protected and liberated by being able to hide behind anonymity, the lack of power that sports clubs themselves have to deal with these matters, and the already-stretched police resources means that many incidences do not get dealt with. Essentially, it is far too easy to set up fake accounts, hide behind cryptic usernames and false identities, and spout whatever abuse you want.
While social media “report” features are highlighted and taught in every online safety class, social media companies have to do more to stop the senseless online hate that occurs not just in sport, but across platforms as a whole. The racist, sexist and homophobic abuse that sportspeople experience on a daily basis is horrific, and something that I myself have experienced as a woman working in sport.
While it’s the big teams and high-profile sports stars who you may think will make the most impact this weekend, we all have a responsibility to do our bit. Distance yourself from social media this weekend, don’t consume whatever content is left, or the ads that social media companies will continue to play. Less social media traffic means reduced ad revenue, and sports fans of all people don’t need to be reminded that money talks.