Safer Internet Day started in 2004 as an initiative to keep children safe online, and has since grown into a way for countries across the globe to work together for a better internet. This year, in light of the racist incidents that have marred football for the past 18 months, we reached out to Glitch, an organisation that works toward ending online abuse and hate speech, to find out how footballers could stay safer online. Lauren Pemberton-Nelson, Communications Coordinator at Glitch, takes us through why internet safety is so important, and what we can do to protect our spaces online.
Hi Lauren, why is social media safety so important?
There are many wonderful things that social media can help us to do, but it isn’t safe for everyone. We often see offline abuse manifesting online, and the statistics are shocking and horrifying. A government report in 2017 showed 28% of Internet users at the receiving end of trolling, harassment and cyberbullying and a recent American study linked cyberbullying to PTSD and depression in teenagers. This can prevent people from wanting to pursue certain career paths and can impact mental health. Social media should be about entertainment, enjoyment, education and people worldwide connecting over common interests, but online abuse detracts from these benefits.
How do Twitter’s new controls work and will they make a difference?
The new controls allow users to have more agency about how they navigate the online space by choosing who can respond to tweets and hiding certain replies. This helps to build digital self-care and digital boundaries online by giving people control over who they interact with and who interacts with them. While this might prevent people from seeing abusive tweets that may be directed towards them, it doesn’t tackle the root of online abuse. The PFA’s call for a public inquiry into football and racism is the right way to go, and there needs to be more research into why and how online abuse continues to thrive in our digital spaces.
Should other social media networks be following suit and updating their policies and guidelines?
All social media companies should be making people more aware of current safety controls to give them the power and knowledge to protect themselves online. Many people aren’t aware of how to utilise these to their benefit, and these companies could make this more evident by creating posts about ways to stay safe on their platform. These companies know their platforms aren’t perfect, but they’re not as vocal about abuse as they could or should be. If they truly care about the safety of the communities most affected by online abuse, they have to acknowledge how awful the current statistics are and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do to try and reduce them’.
What should happen to people who abuse others online?
We need to foster a culture where it’s about educating people and we need more digital citizenship, so people understand how what they say impacts other people in order to make sure we reduce online abuse in the long term. However laws and policies that apply to offline hate speech and harassment should also apply online with the same level of enforcement.
How can football players past and present stay safe online?
First, they should think about setting boundaries in terms of digital self-care. By this, I mean knowing it’s okay to mute or filter, deciding how and when to interact with certain topics, platforms and users and that they don’t have to interact with everything they see online. They should also know there is nothing wrong with reporting and blocking users who repeatedly send them abuse. They could think about being active bystanders – if they see someone else experiencing abuse, they can report the offender and maybe send a message of encouragement to the victim to make the space a bit more friendly and enjoyable for everyone.
There also needs to be a broader discussion about investing in cyber-security. For the online space to truly be safe in the way we want it to be, muting and blocking isn’t enough – the government needs to be doing as much as they can to invest in cybersecurity and educating people on how to be digital citizens. It’s not just an individual’s responsibility to make sure they're safe online; it falls on all of us to make sure everyone is engaging in the safest way possible.
While these tips will help players protect their social media spaces, they are not enough to end the horrific discrimination footballers are currently facing both on and offline. The PFA have called for government intervention and the PFA Charity will continue to support any players past or present who are dealing with abuse.