Now biggest clubs must join Swansea City's social media boycott

·8 min read
Yan Dhanda — 'Enough is enough': Swansea take stand against racists with social media boycott - GETTY IMAGES
Yan Dhanda — 'Enough is enough': Swansea take stand against racists with social media boycott - GETTY IMAGES

As Swansea City have declared: “Enough is enough”. The Championship club’s decision to announce a week-long social media boycott, in protest at the abuse suffered over a long period of time by its players, is absolutely the right thing to do.

Now the question is: how will the rest of football respond? Swansea have a not insubstantial one million followers on Twitter but the platform’s executives back in San Francisco are hardly going to lose any sleep if the club and its players do not post anything for seven days. Especially if it is them alone.

Yes, Swansea will gain publicity and it does not look good for Twitter and Facebook but they will believe – as ever – that they will ride it out and it will blow over. But what would happen if, after Thierry Henry’s stance in coming off social media, and now Swansea’s, that other clubs, leagues and players followed suit?

The fact that a club is taking a collective approach is encouraging. Henry is no longer a prominent lone voice. This is a corporate response but just think how powerful it would be if Manchester United with its 125 million followers and global reach suddenly joined the boycott? The club have taken a stance, have submitted their own complaints and last week posted “We read the comments. We hear the abuse. We feel the hatred.” along with a short video.

But what if United – and all the other Premier League clubs along with the Premier League itself – went further and boycotted the platforms for a week? What if the players joined in? What if Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and Neymar did? What if football collectively turned its back.

It would have an effect. The companies might try and brazen it out but it would be damaging. It would provoke more debate than rightly highlighting the steady, horrible and wholly predictable stream of racist abuse that follows matches.

What have the clubs to lose? Nothing. Nothing at all, in fact. It is argued it is better to try and effect change from within but let’s be honest – where is the evidence that is happening? What real pressure is being brought and how effective is it?

The UK government is threatening huge fines and there is the proposed ‘online harms bill’ but no-one knows when – and if – legislation will be passed to make into law and, even then, how effective it would be. The onus has to be on the big tech companies to get their own house in order. It also needs to be a collaborative approach.

For clubs and players there is a commercial value with more followers and a great ‘social media footprint’ attracting sponsors. But which company is going to distance itself from a deal because a stance is being taken against abuse? Which deal will be pulled? And, if they do, they should be publicly shamed.

Unless Swansea’s lead – and that of Henry’s – is followed then this just continues to go round in a terrible, vicious circle. Maybe even reporting abuse is leading to copycat behaviour. Some of those racists and bigots will never stop until they have the opportunity taken away from them.

We all know what has to happen: all accounts need to be verified, end anonymity and take action – legal action if necessary – against offenders. It can be done if the will is there just as it is already done when it comes to closing down copyright infringements. Social media companies are publishers and cannot continue to shirk their responsibility.

Swansea have made their stance but this movement needs to grow. Otherwise it will be in vain.

Behind the story: Boycott follows abuse of Yan Dhanda

By Tom Morgan, Sports News Correspondent

Jordan Henderson handed full control of his social media accounts to anti-cyber abuse campaigners as he joined mounting protests within football over failures to stop online racism.

The Liverpool captain stopped short of deleting his accounts altogether as "I'm not quite sure who that helps", but he said urgent action was needed over "out of control" levels of abuse.

Elsewhere, a boycott of Facebook and Twitter continues to gather pace, with Swansea City the first club to switch off all platforms in disgust at Big Tech's inability to tackle trolls.

The Championship side will spurn the platforms for a week in solidarity with Thierry Henry's announcement last month that he was quitting social media until firm action is taken with "vigour and ferocity".

With campaigners calling for Premier League clubs and governing bodies to show the same principled stance, Henderson, meanwhile, released a statement on his social media channels attacking "horrendous" abuse faced by "friends, team-mates, other players within football and in wider society".

He cited attacks this week on Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold and Naby Keita, who received racist emojis in replies on Instagram following the club's Champions League defeat to Real Madrid.

"I don't really see much changing," Henderson, 30, said. "Again last night, some of my team-mates were racially abused online after a football match and to me that's just unacceptable."

Henderson said he had been "thinking about deleting all social media, but I'm not quite sure who that helps, or what it does". Instead, he has turned to Cybersmile, a "foundation that educate, support and advise people who suffer from social media abuse or online bullying".

"I'll be partnering with them over the next few weeks for them to have full control of all of my social media channels, to basically promote what they do, how they help people," he added. The charity will publish support links on his sites for "people who are suffering". "Hopefully it can help a lot of people over the next few weeks, and, please, however little you may think the issue is, reach out, we can definitely help you," Henderson added. "I know how sometimes it can be a very dark place on social media, no matter no matter how many followers you've got. Please use it. And I hope it helps a lot of people."

A host of other players and clubs are considering how to join protests across the footballing pyramid. Ivan Toney, the Brentford forward, also posted "honestly, I’m done" this week after again being targeted by vile attacks online. His club is planning to release a statement in the coming days.

"As a society we need to be kinder to each other," Henderson added. "That’s where it starts and stops."

Swansea took a more direct attack on Big Tech as the Welsh club said just hours earlier that they would snub social media for a week.

The announcement agreed by players comes two months after club midfielder Yan Dhanda accused companies of fuelling hate by failing to ban a troll who racially abused him. Team-mates Ben Cabango and Jamal Lowe have also faced attacks in recent weeks. In a statement entitled "Enough is Enough", Swansea said in a statement that a club-wide stance would be launched "in the battle against abuse and discrimination of all forms on social media".

"From 5pm... all first-team players, those in the academy professional phase (under-23s and under-18s), Swansea City Ladies, our Community Trust, senior club staff and official club channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat) will not post any content for a period of seven days," the club said.

"This decision has been taken as a result of conversations between senior club staff, players and management. As a football club, we have seen several of our players subjected to abhorrent abuse in the past seven weeks alone, and we feel it is right to take a stand against behaviour that is a blight on our sport, and society at large.

Dhanda, 22, had told Telegraph Sport in February that he wanted to meet social-media companies in person to tell the effects of abuse and the potential impact on mental health. He believes accounts should be subject to ID checks and harsh punishments.

Since then, Henry, the former Arsenal, became the most high profile athlete to delete Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, warning the torrent of attacks has become "too toxic to ignore". He has vowed to stay off the platforms until firm action is taken with "vigour and ferocity".

Henry's stance prompted Piara Powar, the executive director of European football's equality body Fare, to tell Telegraph Sport that clubs and the Football Association should consider following suit.

Six weeks ago English football's governing bodies united in telling Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter chief Jack Dorsey to show "basic human decency".

Chief executive Julian Winter has sent a new letter to Dorsey and Zuckerberg "to reiterate the club’s stance and desire to see social media companies introduce more stringent policing and punishments for those guilty of the appalling and cowardly abuse that has sadly become far too common".

City captain Matt Grimes said: “Three of our squad have been racially abused in recent weeks and, as a squad and club, we wanted to take this stance as we again call on those at the forefront of social media companies to implement the change that is needed now and in the future. I find it staggering that we are still talking about racism and abuse of this kind."

Facebook has previously said in response to criticism that it was "part of the working group convened by Kick it Out and will continue to work alongside all the industry bodies, the police and the Government to help tackle racism both on and offline”.

Twitter has previously said "there is no room for racist abuse on Twitter and we are resolute in our commitment to ensure the football conversation on our service is safe for fans, players and everyone involved in the game."