Social media platforms should be treated like every other place where people congregate

Opinion: Chris Paouros Co-Chair Proud Lilywhites

Date released: 31/8/19

Social media can be like your favourite pub, you go in, have a chat with people you know as well as strangers, and have interesting, mundane and sometimes surprising conversations. The only problem is, as the pub gets really busy, some people come in with masks covering their faces and things can get a bit hairy. Sheer volume and anonymity mean people say things that they perhaps wouldn’t if they were interacting face to face.

We’re only a few weeks into the season and we have already seen some serious racist abuse on social media levelled at high-profile players like Paul Pogba and Tammy Abraham.

We can’t just accept that virtual spaces are not like physical spaces. Social media is a public place in which people congregate, and whether someone is anonymous or not, if they spout hate speech they should be removed from that space. We don’t accept hate speech in our football stadia; I have seen people ejected from football for racism and homophobia; so we shouldn’t accept it on social media.

You might argue that it’s hard to enforce, but I posted 8 seconds of a live football match on Twitter during the Women’s World Cup (I only have 2000 followers so don’t have a huge footprint) and found my video removed within 15 minutes due to copyright infringement. If that can happen, and that quickly, then Twitter can remove racism, sexism, ableism and LGBT+ hate speech too. In fact, you could argue that key words and associated algorithms mean social media can actually become a leader here—weeding out hate and discrimination, not having to wait for reports, but proactively saying NO to all forms of discrimination and abuse.

We should all welcome Twitter’s approach to meet Manchester United and Kick It Out to begin to discuss how they might tackle this, but suggesting that monitoring the accounts of the top 50 affected players isn’t enough.. what about number 51? What about the ordinary players, fans and officials who are subject to abuse? We need a whole game approach, and social media, because of the tools it has at its disposal and the constant advances in technology could become and leader in fighting hate and discrimination.

So while Twitter are sorting out their algorithms we need to ensure we keep up the pressure to make positive change. Together we need to report any abuse or hate we encounter online to @kickitout (on Twitter) or via the Kick It Out App. We stand beside Kick It Out in challenging social media platforms and working with government and the football bodies to effect real and lasting change

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