FA equality director Edleen John has warned that the football community will be taking action in the coming weeks to drive change from social media organisations following continued “disgusting” online racist abuse of players.
John, the FA’s international, corporate affairs and co-partner for equality, diversity and inclusion director, told Sky Sports News that social media companies must do more to prevent harmful content from being published on their platforms.
High profile players in both the men’s and women’s game have been victims of racial abuse on social media in recent weeks, while Premier League referee Mike Dean was subjected to death threats following a controversial decision over the weekend.
Asked whether the FA have considered encouraging players to come off social media in a stand against the current lack of protection they are given, John said: “Across the football landscape we are continually communicating and working together on what it is we can do as a collective to drive forward the change and to make sure that our views and perspective on this key issue are listened to.
“I think there will be a number of things that you will see in coming weeks and months whereby we have got to drive forward change and have got to continue to engage in these conversations to make sure we don’t continue in the vein that we are at the moment.”
Manchester United Women and England forward Lauren James urged social media platform Instagram to “do something” after sharing a screenshot of abuse she had received on Monday.
As well as James, United men’s players Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Axel Tuanzebe, Southampton’s Alexandre Jankewitz, Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger, and her brother Reece have all been victims of racist abuse across social media in recent weeks.
“It’s a really awful reality that we can see across society that this type of behaviour continues to happen, continues to happen in a public forum and in a public domain, and it seems as though not much is being done to actually stop this abhorrent abuse,” John said.
“I think particularly from a victim perspective, which I think is quite important, it is awful to open your computer, or your phone or your laptop and see discriminatory abuse just about personal characteristics, that you do not change, do not have power over. Just because of who you are and your background, people are flinging discriminatory abusive language and often emojis on social media towards players, referees and indeed broader people across the football landscape.
“My reaction is that I think it’s truly quite disgusting, I think it’s abhorrent and I think it’s a real sad state of affairs that it relates to the behaviour that clearly some people feel is appropriate within society today.”
Oliver Dowden – the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – said on Monday the government will change the law to make social media companies more accountable for malicious content.
Dowden’s statement came as the FA and the Premier League both called upon the government to act quickly in the fight against online racism, but John took her organisation’s plea a step further by outlining a specific plan for social media companies to combat the problem.
“The victims of this abuse are not the ones who are responsible for changing social media settings or blocking users,” John said. “It’s time that the social media organisations take accountability and take onboard their responsibility as it relates to a duty of care for people using their platform.
“So for me it’s about creating and developing algorithms, which I believe these large tech companies must be able to do, to spot online abuse before it’s even at a place where it’s published, and that needs to not only be words but also emojis that are typically aligned with some of the discriminatory abuse that we see online.
“In addition to that, there needs to be a removal of this culture of impunity whereby people can have anonymity, sit at home and be keyboard warriors and say really horrible and baseless things towards individuals without any consequences in the real world.
“So I think social media companies have a duty to ban those users from their platforms, but also have a responsibility as it relates to working with law enforcement to make sure individuals realise that there have to be real-life consequences for that abuse online.”
‘Players leaving platforms would hurt social media companies’
The general secretary of players union FIFPRO, Jonas Baer-Hoffman, delivered a similar message to social media organisations, warning that a lack of action is likely to harm them in the long term.
“Enough talk, time for action,” Baer-Hoffman told Sky Sports News.
“We don’t need more campaigns, we need change – from the platforms, from government, from anybody else who can affect this, also football stakeholders of course.
“We need to take that off the players. It needs to be on the platforms, on government, on law enforcement, but of course it also needs to be bodies like ourselves to take that collective responsibility rather than make every individual player responsible for reporting these things.
“I’m pretty convinced that if those players who are feeling that abuse were to leave this platform, it would hurt the platform more than it would hurt the players.
“These companies are making a massive amount of money on the back of the content that these players produce and that attracts so many other people joining these platforms and engaging with them.
“So frankly I think they should not only have the legal and moral responsibility, they should have a very strong interest to clean this up, because if this becomes or stays an environment that is simply not safe and healthy for these players, well maybe they find other ways to express themselves in the future off these platforms.”
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