'Online abuse is becoming a crisis' - Leeds United groups pledge support for social media boycott

Two Leeds United supporters’ groups have thrown their weight behind the club’s social media boycott this weekend.

Thursday, 29th April 2021, 5:50 am
WEEKEND PROTEST - Leeds United and the rest of English football will unite for a social media boycott in response to racist abuse directed at players and others. Pic: Getty

The Whites will join their Premier League rivals, anti-racism campaign Kick It Out and the rest of English football in a social media silence from 3pm tomorrow until 11.59pm on Monday in protest at the levels of online abuse being directed at players and others on the platforms.

Leeds United Supporters’ Trust will be joining the boycott and want to see more action from social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to combat abuse.

Secretary Adam Willerton told the YEP: “We are glad to see governing bodies, clubs and fans coming together to take a stand against the worrying increase in vile abuse being posted on social media.

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“While this boycott will not rid our game of discriminatory abuse, it shows that everyone involved in football is willing to act in order to urge social media companies to take responsibility. As a Trust, we have been working with other groups on what we can do to help prevent online abuse, and it is clear that while we can encourage our own supporters to report it when they see it and lobby our respective clubs to be proactive in banning and educating offending individuals, action must be taken by the social media companies themselves.

“As football fans, we have a duty to ensure that discrimination is not allowed to breed in our sport and communities, just as social media companies have a duty to ensure that discrimination is not allowed to breed on their platforms. Online abuse is becoming a crisis and it needs to be stopped.”

Stephen Wignall is the chairman of Marching Out Together, an LGBT+ group set up in 2017. When he became aware of the boycott, he contacted his fellow committee members on WhatsApp to suggest getting involved.

“The idea was initially driven because of racism and I totally understand that because of where we are at the minute but from a wider point of a view a blackout is useful against any forms of discrimination,” he said. “People use Twitter to say things they just wouldn’t say in real life. It’s faceless. A lot of the profiles are posting drivel – their racist drivel or discriminatory drivel – and it’s unacceptable.

“I thought it’s a great initiative and a great place to start. We’ve put the steps in place to ensure we can fully support it.”

Marching Out Together, whose pin badge adorned Marcelo Bielsa’s jacket for Sunday’s game against Manchester United, has worked with the club on a number of initiatives that have been met with what Stephen describes as “disgusting” abuse from a minority on social media.

“The most recent one was when we were doing a charity raffle for an LGBT+ charity, with a signed Rainbow Laces T-shirt the players wore before the West Ham game,” he said.

“The club tweeted about it for us to promote it and some of the abuse, from a small minority, was disgusting. We find it wholly unacceptable. If they’re willing to come out with discriminatory comments for a charity raffle, you don’t know where they’ll stop.”

A boycott is not going to solve the problem of discrimination and abuse on social media, but Stephen believes it is a line in the sand that sends a message to social media companies.

“We’re not going to wake up on Monday morning with the world fixed or the Twitter world fixed,” he said.

“It’s a starting point of saying enough is enough now, you have to do something about it. It’s making a stand so social media firms take more accountability for who is using their platform. A lot of these posts are from faceless accounts. We have to get to a point where people can’t sign up without validation of who they are, so that enforcement action can be taken if someone isn’t playing by the rules of normal society.

“We will be joining in. We would encourage our members to join in. Our membership is a very diverse bunch and will see how important this is so we’ll definitely see some up-take.”