Rangers became the latest club to join a social media boycott led by Swansea City as football turned up the heat on Facebook and Twitter in the fight against online abuse. Championship clubs are pushing for English Football League teams to adopt a powerful collective approach to tackle discrimination following Swansea’s decision to announce the club, all their players and their staff would shun all social media for a week.
In a groundbreaking move, Swansea announced that from 5pm on Thursday their first-team and academy players would not post any content on social media for seven days and the club would not post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, YouTube or TikTok. Rangers have followed suit, saying they are concerned by the “daily racist abuse” their players suffer, while Birmingham City joined Swansea in saying they would not publish any content on their platforms in that period.
The Scottish club have arranged to meet Facebook, which owns Instagram, to underline their concerns. The Rangers captain, James Tavernier, recently revealed every black player in the squad has been abused online this season, while Uefa is investigating the alleged racial abuse directed at Glen Kamara against Slavia Prague. Kamara has said he has received abuse every day since the incident last month with Ondrej Kudela in the Europa League. A Rangers statement read: “We know these concerns are shared by all clubs and it is fair to say everyone is losing patience with the lack of action from social media companies.”
Rangers hope that clear and direct action will be taken by social media platforms. “The basic verification of users, as part of the sign-up process, to any social media platform, will ensure that users are both identifiable and accountable for their actions and words. We will raise this next week in our scheduled meetings.
“We would hope that social media companies recognise the benefit of verified accounts. If they don’t, it is time for government to step in and legislate. As a club, we will continue to consider all options which increase pressure on social media platforms until they begin working proactively in the interests of wider society.”
EFL clubs held divisional meetings on Thursday, when the subject was prominent on the agenda, and it is understood there was strong support from several second-tier clubs for a league-wide approach. But some clubs are concerned about the financial ramifications of a social media boycott with regard to sponsors, and about cutting off a key arm of communication with fans during a pandemic. Birmingham said they actively encouraged “all stakeholders and supporters to join them” in following Swansea’s lead.
Swansea have written to Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook which owns Instagram, and Jack Dorsey, the chief executive of Twitter, to demand tougher punishments for those guilty of “cowardly abuse that has sadly become far too common”.
The Swansea captain, Matt Grimes, said the toll of abuse should not be underestimated and the club’s head coach, Steve Cooper, said: “If this gets people thinking about what else can be done, then good. It would be great [if others joined Swansea], but it’s a club prerogative with how they deal with forms of discrimination. ”
Last Friday Jamal Lowe became the third Swansea player in less than two months to be subjected to racial abuse on Instagram. South Wales police launched investigations after Yan Dhanda was abused in February and Ben Cabango in March. Dhanda accused Facebook of being “selfish” and criticised the company’s inaction.
On Tuesday the Liverpool trio Trent Alexander-Arnold, Naby Keïta and Sadio Mané became the latest high-profile players to be subjected to online racial abuse. On Thursday the Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson, said he would hand control of his social media accounts to the Cybersmile Foundation, an anti-cyberbulling charity. “Online abuse has got to stop,” Henderson said.
The West Bromwich Albion manager, Sam Allardyce, revealed his striker Callum Robinson received more than 70 abusive messages from “20 different [accounts] on Instagram” after the win at Chelsea on Saturday and suggested a show of solidarity from all clubs could help to combat abuse.
“I would like an accumulation of football clubs across the board to do it all together,” he said. “That would for me be the only way that a difference may be made, if a united front was put up by all 92 professional clubs. But, of course, if that meant losing revenue … money may override that, unfortunately.”
Facebook said in February that “tougher measures” would be taken to tackle the issue after Thierry Henry announced he would quit social media, saying he would not return until the companies take racism and bullying seriously. After Henry’s remarks detailing “toxic” abuse, a spokesperson for the company said: “We don’t want discriminatory abuse on Instagram and we remove it when we find it. Between October and December last year we took action on 6.6 million pieces of hate speech content on Instagram, 95% of which we found before anyone reported it to us.”
Swansea will not communicate updates from the match at Millwall on Saturday or at Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday on social media but will update their website.
An EFL spokesperson said: “Racist, discriminatory and threatening abuse online is a scourge on society that is reflected in the sustained abuse of players and people connected to our national game.
“The football authorities have consistently challenged social media companies to use their platforms to effect change and as part of the Football Online Hate Working Group we continue to work with stakeholders to create conditions that will ensure there are real life consequences for online abuse.
“Likewise we are supportive of any EFL club’s proactive efforts to combat hate – the merits of taking collective action were debated by clubs today with consideration being given to scheduling further activity before the end of the current season.”