Premier League

Man Utd expose extent of abuse ahead of social media boycott

Friday will see the beginning of a four-day social media boycott, and research by Manchester United shows why action is desperately needed.

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Man Utd expose extent of abuse ahead of social media boycott

Manchester United have exposed the stark levels of abuse aimed at their players ahead of a four-day social media boycott. Football clubs and players all over England will be joined in the action, which runs from 1500 BST on Friday until 2359 BST on Monday, by UEFA and major bodies across cricket, rugby union, tennis, rugby league and other sports.

The move follows an increase in online abuse aimed at sportspeople, with United's research offering a glimpse at how bad the problem is.

United revealed a 350 per cent increase in abuse directed towards their players since September 2019, with 86 per cent of 3,300 abusive posts categorised as being racist in nature.

A further eight per cent were deemed homophobic or transphobic.

Manchester United: "We want to shine a light on the issue"

"It must be said that while these numbers are shocking, they do only represent a 0.01 per cent of conversations that take place on social media about the club and the players," said group managing director Richard Arnold.

"By taking part in this boycott this weekend, we, alongside the rest of English football, want to shine a light on the issue. It will generate debate and discussion and will raise awareness of the levels of abuse our players and our fans receive."

An announcement of the boycott came jointly last Saturday from numerous organisations in football, including the Premier League, the English Football League, the Football Association, the Professional Footballers' Association, the Women’s Super League and the Women’s Championship.

"While some progress has been made, we reiterate those requests today in an effort to stem the relentless flow of discriminatory messages and ensure that there are real-life consequences for purveyors of online abuse across all platforms," the groups said in a release.

"Boycott action from football in isolation will, of course, not eradicate the scourge of online discriminatory abuse, but it will demonstrate that the game is willing to take voluntary and proactive steps in this continued fight."

Since that statement was released, other bodies have declared they will join the boycott from across various sports, with cycling, horseracing and hockey also on board.

Football's European governing body, UEFA, also pledged its support in a strongly worded statement from president Aleksander Ceferin on Thursday.

"We've had enough of these cowards who hide behind their anonymity to spew out their noxious ideologies," he said.

The move instigated by England's footballing bodies follows them sending a letter to social media companies in February, urging them to take numerous steps to take down online abuse, including quick removal of offensive posts and an improved verification process.

Some within the game have already taken individual action to protest, with Thierry Henry withdrawing from all social media platforms until the issue is appropriately addressed.

Henry's stance came after a spate of incidents of vile abuse being aimed at sportspeople online.

Chelsea put out a statement in January after Reece James was targeted, saying: "Something needs to change and it needs to change now."

Manchester United duo Anthony Martial and Axel Tuanzebe were also racially abused online after the side's loss to Sheffield United, with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer calling for stronger intervention from social media platforms.