A social media boycott begins on Friday afternoon as athletes, clubs and governing bodies from a range of sports have joined forces to send a message that online abuse will not be tolerated.
All those involved – including broadcasters and sponsors with links to sport – are proposing a near-total blackout on their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter channels from 3pm on Friday until 11.59pm on Monday night.
What is the aim?
An investigation by the Professional Footballers’ Association identified 56 abusive posts to Twitter in November 2020, but reported 31 of those still remain visible on the site – described as “absolutely unacceptable”. It is one of many examples of how football players, managers and pundits are targeted for abuse and are not being protected by social media companies.
There have been calls for the government to bring in legislation which would hold social media companies responsible for what is posted on their platforms, encouraging them to do more to stop abuse. The government has threatened social media companies with fines which could run into the billions if they do not take more action.
The social media companies insist they are taking the issues seriously. Twitter released a statement this week which failed to reference the boycott directly, instead insisting racist abuse was the fault of a tiny minority and “a deep societal and complex issue [in which] everyone has a role to play”.
Who is involved?
The sport’s authorities kicked off the boycott plans last Saturday night, in response to a rising tide of online hate aimed at players, managers and pundits.
Clubs across the Premier League, EFL, Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship will switch off their accounts. Governing bodies’ central accounts - such as those belonging to the Premier League, the Football Association, the WSL, the EFL, the Professional Footballers’ Association, the League Managers Association and the Football Supporters’ Association are also involved, as are anti-discrimination bodies Kick It Out and Show Racism The Red Card.
Clubs and governing bodies across Scottish football have also now pledged to support the boycott, along with the Football Association of Wales.
The England and Wales Cricket Board announced on Wednesday that it, the 18 first-class counties, the eight women’s regional teams and the Professional Cricketers’ Association were joining the boycott.
The Rugby Football Union stands in solidarity with the football and cricket authorities, and its accounts for England Rugby, the Allianz Premier 15s, the Championship and GB7s will all suspend activity, it was confirmed on Thursday. Clubs in the Gallagher Premiership announced they were boycotting social media the previous day, with the support of the Rugby Players’ Association, while Scottish Rugby also joined in on Thursday, with Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors’ accounts becoming inactive.
Super League, organisers of the Rugby League World Cup 2021 and the Rugby League Players’ Association are all taking part in the blackout.
The Lawn Tennis Association announced on Monday its intention to stand with football in support of the boycott. On Friday morning, the International Tennis Federation and International Tennis Integrity Agency said both organisations would “stand united with all sports against social media abuse” to support the social media boycott.
The Professional Darts Corporation said on Thursday it will support the social media boycott.
On Friday, F1 issued a statement reiterating a commitment to “combatting any form of discrimination, online or otherwise”, noting support for the efforts of the other sporting bodies in highlighting the issues while pledging to “work with all platforms and our own audiences to promote respect and positive values and put a stop to racism.”
With Formula 1 not planning to take part, the seven-time world champion is happy to help, saying: “I am fully supportive of the initiative and if me doing it helps put pressure on those platforms in order to help fight against it then, for sure, I am happy to do so.” On Friday, Hamilton’s compatriot George Russell, a driver with Williams, confirmed he will also take part in the boycott.
British Horseracing said it will take part in the boycott from 9pm on Friday evening, following a planned commemoration of the life of Lorna Brooke.
British Cycling is standing in “solidarity with all of those who have suffered or continue to suffer abuse” in joining the boycott.
Sportswear giant Adidas - which manufactures more than a third of Premier League kits - is stopping all advertising across its platforms. Barclays, which sponsors the WSL, will support the blackout, with no social media posts on the Barclays Football pages of Facebook and Instagram nor the Barclays Footy Twitter account, while the company’s other social channels will avoid all football-related activity.
England football team sponsor Budweiser has signed up, along with Nationwide, while online car retailer Cazoo - which sponsors Everton and Aston Villa - became the first major sponsor to announce its support of the boycott on Tuesday.
BT Sport says the only posts on its channels over the blackout period will relate to social media abuse while talkSPORT is also supporting the boycott. Sky Sports, a key supporter of Kick It Out, is backing the campaign along with fellow Premier League broadcasters Amazon Prime.
The Sun said it was “proud to stand united with the football community” in announcing a boycott and the Guardian have also decided to show unity. Read Independent Sport’s statement on why we have joined the boycott.
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