FA may join Premier League and EFL clubs in boycotting social media

FA may join Premier League and EFL clubs in boycotting social media as part of blanket blackout aimed at putting platforms under pressure to deal with rise in online abuse

  • There is a growing desire from clubs to hold boycotts of social media platforms 
  • The Football Association may also join the clubs as part of the blanket boycott 
  • Top-flight clubs have already discussed a collective action ahead of a meeting  

The Football Association could join Premier League and Football League clubs in boycotting social media as part of a blanket blackout.

The Mail on Sunday can reveal there is a growing desire from clubs up and down the divisions to hold a league-wide boycott of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to put the platforms under pressure to do more following a rise in online abuse.

Top-flight clubs have already discussed a collective action ahead of a meeting of football’s key stakeholders next week.

The FA may join Premier League and EFL clubs in boycotting social media in a blanket blackout

Swansea led the way as they announced on Thursday that the club, players and staff would come off social media for seven days. The Championship side said enough is enough after three of their players – Jamal Lowe, Yan Dhanda and Ben Cabango –  have all been subjected to racist abuse this season.

They were soon joined by fellow Championship side Birmingham City as well as Steven Gerrard’s Rangers while Reading captain Liam Moore deactivated his Twitter account after being racially abused. Liverpool trio of Trent Alexander Arnold, Naby Kieta and Sadio Mane were targeted after their midweek defeat to Real Madrid.

Following Swansea’s decision, the Mail on Sunday asked all remaining 91 league clubs as well as the Premier League, EFL and FA whether they would consider a boycott.

Swansea led the way after three players, including Jamal Lowe (above), were racially abused

There was a strong consensus among those who responded that a joint action would send the strongest message. A boycott involving clubs in all four divisions will be discussed at meeting of the Premier League, EFL and other bodies such as Kick It Out scheduled for early next week.

The Mail on Sunday led calls for a social media boycott in February when former cabinet minister and head of the football task force David Mellor urged clubs to use their power and step away from the platforms.

The FA confirmed that they would consider joining clubs in a boycott if a blanket ban is decided. ‘We fully support any club or player that wishes to take a stand against any form of discrimination in a respectful manner, including the boycott of social media platforms,’ a spokesman told The Mail on Sunday.

‘Creating a game that is free from discrimination remains a core priority for our organisation and we will continue to use our platforms to openly challenge online hate. We are in regular dialogue with other English football authorities and, if it is felt collectively that a boycott of social media platforms would achieve the desired effect in leading to tangible change, it is something we would consider.’

Top-flight clubs have already discussed taking collective action ahead of a meeting next week

Sheffield United striker Rhian Brewster is one of many Premier League players to be targeted by racists this season and the Blades confirmed they want to send the strongest possible message to social media organisations.

‘Sheffield United remains committed to tackling racism and a boycott of social media is just one course of action that is being considered,’ a club spokesman told The Mail on Sunday

‘Talks are on-going between the club, players and stakeholders but senior officials feel that a collective, with the Premier League at the forefront, will present a stronger message to the relevant organisations. A number of our players have been victims of abhorrent online abuse and we will be keen to be part of any measures that will make a difference.’

Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho and Aston Villa manager Dean Smith on Friday backed calls for a mass boycott while Arsenal and Manchester United have also launched their own club-specific anti-abuse campaigns.

Jose Mourinho (pictured) and Dean Smith have both also backed the calls for a mass boycott

‘The club is thinking, analysing every detail and the club of course wants to make an impact,’ said Mourinho while Smith added: ‘It should be a ban throughout all of football. We need to make a stand with this.’

How long clubs maintain a boycott remains to be seen. They have previously been reticent to implement such blackouts as many of their lucrative commercial contracts are linked to fan engagements on such platforms.

A number of club sources have said they believe sponsors will be on board with a move to stamp out online abuse but West Brom manager Sam Allardyce admitted that money talks.

‘I would like an accumulation of football clubs to all do it together. That would for me be the only way that a difference may be made. But, of course, if that meant losing revenue over survival and, trying to help on these abusive messages, the money may override that unfortunately. There’s a lot of people in a lot of trouble financially because of the pandemic.’

The EFL has held talks with its clubs with a league-wide boycott one of the options discussed

The EFL has already held talks with its clubs over collective action with a league-wide boycott one of the options discussed. Clubs have said they are expecting more guidance from the EFL on Monday.

‘Further to divisional meetings, the EFL continues to consult with clubs in respect of any collective action regarding the ongoing and sustained racist, discriminatory, and threatening abuse suffered by players and other members of the football community online,” an EFL spokesman told The Mail on Sunday.

‘The football authorities have consistently challenged social media companies to use their platforms to affect change and as part of the Football Online Hate Working Group we continue to work with stakeholders to create conditions that will ensure there are real life consequences for online abuse.’

Almost every club that responded our questions made it clear that they believe that social media companies should do much more to act on racist and abusive posts.

Football’s authorities sent a letter to Twitter and Facebook urging them to put a stop to abuse

Football’s authorities, including the Premier League, FA, EFL and the PFA sent a letter to Twitter and Facebook in February urging them to put a stop to racist abuse on their platforms.

While the Premier League would not confirm if they would join a group boycott, a spokesperson told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Racist behaviour of any form is unacceptable and tackling online hate is a priority for the Premier League. Our immediate focus is continuing to extend our online monitoring and reporting systems, strongly challenging social media companies to block and take down discriminatory abuse from their platforms and help us take legal action against offenders.

‘We are also working with Government to ensure our views are heard regarding the upcoming Online Safety Bill legislation which we expect will also bring about real change in this area. We continue to support players, managers and their families who receive discriminatory online abuse. This abhorrent abuse condoned by social media platforms cannot be allowed to continue and working together with our clubs and our partners in football, we will not stop until it is removed from our game.’

The Government’s Online Safety Bill, which will come forward later this year, will threaten huge fines if companies fail to act quickly and protect its users.

The Government’s Online Safety Bill will threaten huge fines if companies fail to act quickly and protect its users (pictured: Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden)

Clubs are doing as much as they can to monitor, block and report online abuse towards their players. The Premier League launched a reporting tool last year for players, managers and their families.

Much of the monitoring at clubs is done is by individuals and a source at one Premier League club said they feared for the mental health of their employees who are tasked with trawling through abuse.

That much of the abuse is sent from anonymous accounts from overseas often makes it difficult to track down and prosecute offenders.

The hope is that a widespread boycott as well as proposed Government sanctions will put social media companies under even more pressure to get their own house in order.

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