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At 3pm today some of the biggest players, governing bodies and organisations in English football will join in solidarity for a social media blackout across three days in their fight against racism directed at the players.
A PFA survey exclusively for Good Morning Britain has found that almost half of black professional footballers (45%) have received racist abuse online, with almost 40% of players admitting it has negatively impacted their mental health.
Players that took part in the survey also indicated that Twitter (38%) and Instagram (36%) were the two social media platforms where they receive the most racist abuse and 90% of those surveyed said they do not think social media companies are doing enough to tackle racist abuse on their platforms.
With 30% admitting to being racially abused within the last year, 9
2% of those surveyed also believe the British government is not taking sufficient enough measures to make social media companies take action against online racist abuse.
The results of the survey were discussed on today’s show by an esteemed footballing panel including former West Ham United player Anton Ferdinand, England and Aston Villa defender Anita Asante and Sanjay Bhandari, Chair of Kick It Out alongside hosts Ben Shephard and Kate Garraway.
Anton said: “It’s sad that we’re at this point. Action is needed. I believe this is a good step forward.”
Of the social media companies, he says: “This show of solidarity and unity is something they won’t like. It’s something they can’t shy away from and it’s something we need to get action from. I think this is a good way and a good step forward.”
He adds: “There’s no sugar coating it, that’s what happens on a day to day basis.
“I don’t care how strong you think you are mentally, it is going to affect you at some point, your mental health will be in danger at some point.”
He added: “We’ve seen how unity with the ESL got that stopped in its tracks, so let’s show unity.”
Anita said: “I think it’s a massive challenge for all the players playing the game. To know that that kind of targeted abuse is happening regardless of a situation, for who you are, your race, your background, it’s very triggering. It can affect performance as well. Whatever you do in a sport, you make a mistake, you don’t have to do anything, you still get targeted. That’s a lot for someone to have to deal with mentally and mental gymnastics they have to play with every day when they show up to the training group, match day or go on their social media to interact with the fan base.”
Sanjay said of the boycott and whether it’s silencing people: “We’re supporting the boycott and that’s because of three reasons: 1 is that social media has become this vessel for toxic abuse and it’s to signify our collective anger across football and the damage that online abuse is causing to the people playing, watch and work in the game. We want to show unity with those people.
“And more importantly it’s a call to action, it’s a call to action to those with power. We’re saying, you need to act, you need to create change. And primarily that’s social media companies. They have the technology to be able to solve these problems and they have the resources to be able to solve these problems. Now of course, a boycott on its own, we know when we get to midnight on Monday, the world will not have suddenly changed, but it’s not like this is the only thing we’re doing.
“We’re doing lots of other things, engaging with social media companies, lots of working with the government. It is also about how this fits in a whole suite of things. I think very importantly for this, we’re also having commercial sponsors and commercial partners joining the boycott and that’s incredibly important because they have power, they also provide the funding for social media, so there’s also a little bit of hitting them in the pocket as well. This may be the first boycott, it may not be the last.”
In a statement to the show Twitter said: “We are committed to ensuring football conversation on our service is safe for fans, players and everyone involved in the game. We have removed over 7 thousand Tweets in the UK targeting football conversation this season and 90% of the abuse targeting players is removed without the need for a user report.”
Facebook’s statement said: “We agree with and have already made progress on many of the players’ suggestions, including taking tougher action against people breaking their rules in DMs. We are also providing new tools to help prevent people seeing abusive messages from strangers.”
The Premier League tweeted: “In response to the sustained discriminatory abuse received online by players and others connected to the game, English football will unite for a social media boycott from 15:00 BST on Friday 30 April to 23:59 BST on Mon 3 May #NoRoomForRacism”
*NB sample of 114 black professional footballers surveyed by the PFA on behalf of GMB - 107 male / 7 female.