Why football's boycott of social media should be just the beginning

Ian Hart: So whilst this weekend’s football wide boycott is certainly a step in the right direction, in layman’s terms is it comparable to that little Dutch boy with his finger in the Dyke.

Saturday, 1st May 2021, 12:20 pm
Football clubs, players and leagues are joining together this weekend to boycott social media in protest at the rise in abuse on the platforms

I don’t often pay anyone associated with Crystal Palace a compliment but Wilfred Zaha should have been lauded recently when questioning the ‘taking of the knee’ prior to each Premier League fixture.

Zaha stated that whilst the action was well-intentioned, it had become nothing more than a hollow gesture because players were still being racially abused on line without any form of real censure from social media platforms.

One football personality who was racially abused, Ian Wright did see his abuser successfully prosecuted, although the ex-England international was disappointed to see the teenage defendant only receive a probation order.

But this is where this whole issue transcends more than sport and race. Many readers will know my daughter Amy took part in ITV’s Love Island a couple of years ago. During her time in the Villa she received a death threat via her Instagram account and the threat was graphic. The person said he would cut off her head and gouge her eyes out.

Thankfully and ironically there was no social media in the Villa, but ITV immediately called the Police in, and the threat was traced to a 14-year-old boy in the Midlands, who was spoken to but no further action taken.

At the time, my opinion was that this was not a satisfactory outcome. If this was the level of respect this lad had for women at 14, what would he be like at 18 or 21?

If he’d said it to her verbally, that’s classed as threatening behaviour, so why should on line content be any different?

Racial abuse and violent threats to women remain huge issues on social media. But at least they were able to track that individual down.

Instagram and other platforms also appear to operate a policy which includes ‘burner’ accounts, these are accounts that any level of abuse can be metered out but they are totally untraceable.

Yet nothing is done by the internet companies so the perpetrators continue to go unpunished, many of whom have constantly racially abused footballers.

Then there's the gambling companies. They use the social media platforms to hand out endless numbers of free bets to anyone who wants them, what would be said if the cigarette firms were giving away endless packets of fags or the alcohol producers giving out free drinks on line?

Gambling is every bit as addictive and dangerous as both alcohol and tobacco, and probably ruins as many lives in the process.

Don’t get me wrong, some aspects of social media are positive but they unfortunately pale into insignificance up against all the negative stuff.

Obviously I hope the boycott does have an impact, and too a degree it will. The issues of racism online must be tackled but so too the threats to women and gambling.