Why online abuse goes beyond the beautiful game - Laura Collins, YEP Editor

Social media felt like a much quieter place this weekend.

Monday, 3rd May 2021, 6:00 am
Leeds United backed the social media boycott this weekend. Pic: Michael Regan/PA Wire.

Gone were the witty match day tweets, the memes and the blow-by-blow accounts from sports commentators sitting in stadiums across the country.

Instead the sound of silence was palpable as the world of sport stood shoulder to shoulder to call on social media giants to show online abuse the red card.

The Duke of Cambridge stood alongside “the entire football community” as social media accounts across sport shut down in a united front against online abuse.

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Since it was first announced, the boycott, which started on Friday at 3pm and runs until 11.59pm tonight, has grown as other sport governing bodies, sponsors, partners, broadcasters and media outlets have come on board.

A coalition of football’s largest governing bodies and organisations, including the Football Association, Premier League and EFL, were among those to go silent on social media in a show of solidarity against sustained, sickening and spiralling abuse.

And our own sports accounts fell silent over the weekend in a show of solidarity that enough finally is enough.

Last week Marcelo Bielsa summed up the campaign perfectly. He stated: “Anything that helps to combat discrimination and the possibility to cause harm anonymously and to damage or cause harm to someone unjustly, and the possibility to do this without the consequences, they are realities which should be combatted.”

The boycott isn’t going to solve the problem but it is a watershed moment that firmly draws a line in the sand that this is unacceptable.

Fundamentally this is much wider and ingrained at a societal level which will also require a shift in attitudes and tolerance towards others.

Why would any right-minded human being think it is acceptable to throw grenades at others in the combatant arena that is social media?

Hiding behind the cloak of digital anonymity and not feeling the far-reaching consequences of their actions is surely a coward’s trick?

But this display of unity led by the sporting world will not only pile on the pressure for tech giants but also on politicians to take a stand.

The long-awaited Online Harms Bill, which is due to be introduced in Parliament this year, simply has to show its teeth.

While freedom of expression is vital for democracy to not only thrive but survive it has to maintain the balance of freedom of speech without giving those the chance to freely express hate.

The Bill, which is slowly meandering its way through Parliament, has to be meaningful and it has to tackle what Leeds supporters’ groups have deemed a “crisis” in social media abuse.

This is an issue that goes much deeper than the beautiful game.

And we all need to play our part in calling out abuse for what it is - it is wrong and will not be tolerated.

We can’t afford to stand by and spectate.

It is only by each of us playing our own part that we can work towards showing abuse the red card once and for all.

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