With online racism, sexism and bullying plunging social media into a platform of hate, demand is growing on bosses to stamp out the vile abuse.
And top names from the world of sport today back the Mirror’s call for firms to take tougher action against those behind the attacks.
English football will have a four-day boycott of social media next weekend in protest at its failure to combat the stream of hate directed towards players.
And former Arsenal star Thierry Henry quit online chat over the abuse he received – pointing out the fury that led to the collapse of European Super League plans by greedy football chiefs shows what protest can achieve.
He said: “If the Prime Minister can come out as well as all of the big, important people over the Super League, they can do it to help children at school, women at work, ordinary people who are suffering from bullying and racism on social media.
“Football generates a lot of money. A lot. The power that it can have on the community is massive. The boycott in football is about making people aware of the way they need to behave, to talk, the way they relate to people. Other industries can now follow.
“This is not just for us. It is for our kids. If we can make this work it will change the platform and make it far more safe.
“I keep saying, it is not only football players being abused. So why can’t the movement be bigger? Can we get some of the big corporations like Sony, Apple, organisations whose products we all use, to show solidarity with families around the world who want change?
“Football has taken a stand. Surely other areas can too.
“Remember, this is a global problem, not a football problem. Football has taken a stand for everybody, directly or indirectly.
“It is not just about racism. It is about abuse online full stop.”
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England manager Gareth Southgate added: “If you spoke to every manager in the country, one of their biggest concerns is that after a game in the dressing room players are scrolling through their phone.
“It’s a vulnerable time for people just after they’ve played a game, they are tired, fatigued, and what voice are they listening to?
“It seems companies in charge don’t seem to be controlling it, so I totally understand why people would choose to come off the platforms.”
Shadow Culture Secretary Jo Stevens said: “For too long social media firms have been allowed to duck their responsibilities leading to rampant hate and abuse on their platforms.”
The Mirror’s charter calls for a zero tolerance of online abuse, tougher penalties for firms which fail to act and automatic bans for anyone posting offensive material, often behind a wall of anonimity. The Premier League, English Football League,Women’s Super League and the FA will take part in the social boycott from April 30.
Sanjay Bhandari, chair of football’s Kick It Out anti-racism campaign, said: “Social media is now sadly a regular vessel for toxic abuse. This boycott signifies our collective anger at the damage this causes.”
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has led campaigns on tackling abuse and other players have been talking to sportswear, kit makers and other sponsors about backing the blackout.
The British Future think tank found 19% of British Pakistanis and 22% of Black Britons had suffered racist insults online.
Another study revealed one in five children had been victims of cyberbullying, while more than one in five women had received misogynistic abuse.
And a mum whose son took his own life after he was hounded by online bullies has warned social media users: “Your words could be somebody else’s final straw.”
Backing the Mirror’s Stop Online Hate campaign, Lucy Alexander urged every user to think twice before posting an unkind comment online.
Mirror’s 5-point charter
1 A zero tolerance of identity-based hate, abuse and bullying on social media sites. Firms must remove offensive material that breaches community guidelines immediately. We propose incremental fines for failure to remove such content within a specified time zone. Firms should also be fined if they fail to remove persistent offenders. Tech companies must update community guidelines to make them more robust and comprehensive.
2 All social media firms to have a clear, publicised and accessible mechanism for reporting abuse. Firms should be obliged under law to acknowledge receipt of complaints and explain their action.Social media firms to publish six monthly reports monitoring abuse and explaining action taken to eradicated it.
3 Automatic bans for anyone posting offensive material, including lifetime bans for repeated or especially offensive behaviour. Social media firms should explore a system of verification so it is easier to trace, remove and prosecute people who spread hatred and abuse.
4 A tax on tech firms to fund educational outreach projects to teach young people on online safety.
5 Demand the Government brings the Online Safety Bill before Parliament now. Make identity-based hate a specific crime alongside child sexual exploitation, inciting terror and promoting violence.
Rachel Riley: Targeted for being Jewish
Online abuse has become part of my daily life – I have been accused of everything from white supremacy to Nazism to murdering Palestinian kids by eating cheesecake because I’m Jewish.
I’ve blocked thousands of accounts but it shouldn’t just be down to victims to protect themselves.
Social media companies have allowed abuse to become part of life online.
In the offline world, bad behaviour has consequences. The test should be would it be allowed at a football match?
While grounds have been closed to fans, social media has become the virtual terraces, but with no stewards, racist comments go unpunished, become normalised and inspire more.
Their business models require keeping us all online for longer.
The threat of serious fines would hit tech firms where it hurts and requiring platforms to be transparent about how they deal with users’ reports of abuse might also embarrass them to do better.
If it’s serious about stamping out online abuse, the Government should stop dithering and pass legislation now.
- Rachel Riley is a patron of the Center for Countering Digital Hate.