English soccer to boycott social media for four days over racist abuse

Clubs are hoping to persuade Twitter and Facebook to clamp down on online hate.

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English soccer has announced a social media boycott designed to pile pressure on the likes of Facebook and Twitter to stamp out racist abuse on their platforms. The entirety of the so-called football pyramid — from the top-flight English Premier League and women's football to lower divisions and governing bodies to trade unions — will take part in the protest, from Friday, April 30th until Monday, May 3rd. As part of the boycott, clubs across the different leagues will switch off their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts as a display of their collective might.

The social media blackout comes amid a rise in online abuse directed toward players, according to the Premier League. In February, English football wrote an open letter to Twitter's Jack Dorsey and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg requesting protections including filters and blocks on racist and discriminatory messages. To counter anonymous accounts and known abusers, it recommended imposing stronger identity verification checks and re-registration prevention, along with "active assistance" for law enforcement in cases involving illegal content.

English football has also called on the UK government to push through its internet regulations, designed to force social media companies to protect British users from harmful and illegal content. Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport tweeted that he had met with footballers to help shape the laws. "Racist abuse online is never acceptable," Oliver Dowden said.

At the same time, English football's solidarity with the anti-racism movement has been on full display on the pitch, with players taking a knee for Black Lives Matter ahead of kick-off. While the broader 'No Room for Racism' campaign has seen clubs and players urging fans to actively challenge and report discrimination in society.

The mood is also reflected in other industries. After the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer sparked global protests, gaming companies including Rockstar and Activision raised awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement by temporarily closing online games and displaying splash screen messages of support. Notably, the sentiment recently spilled over into the world of virtual football, with EA banning a FIFA player for life for sending racist messages to former player Ian Wright.