Mirror joins sport’s social media blackout – why it’s so crucial in racism fight

It is hard to understate the importance of this weekend.

If you are still asking: ‘What are four days off Twitter or Instagram going to do?’, you still don’t get it.

And if you don’t get it now, you never will.

British sport has never before mobilised behind its athletes to fight racism in this way.

English and Scottish football speaking with one voice like this is unheard of. Unthinkable certainly in the 21 years I’ve been a national newspaper journalist.

I’ve always been proud of The Mirror and the position it has taken on racism in football. Sometimes a lone voice, we’ve always sought to give black athletes, officials and administrators a voice when the game would prefer to look the other way.

Sport will go silent on social media this weekend

On Monday the paper has widened the campaign to encompass the bullying highlighted by Thierry Henry when the France and Arsenal superstar former striker started this movement five weeks ago. Now this.

Wherever you live in England or Scotland, if you are a football fan you will have had at least one player at your clubs suffer racist abuse.

Wherever you live in England or Scotland, you will have experienced or know someone who has experienced online hate.

Normally I never wear badges or buy into the cosmetic campaigns around racism, largely because few racists are ever struck by a crisis of confidence on the basis of a pithy PR slogan.

There is similar, understandable scepticism around the current campaign, to boycott social media for four days between 3pm today, Friday, and 23.59 on Monday night.

This, though, is different. This is about actually doing something. I’m fully behind this because – whether it moves the dial even an inch or not – it is putting words into action.

Thierry Henry started the movement

More importantly, it is the first step in real change around racism in football.

If British sport can direct this ferocity at the tech companies, it sure as sugar can turn that energy on itself.

If every element of the English and Scottish game can come together to speak with one voice in this way, the potential for real change is limitless.

My kids see today as reminiscent of that scene in the Avengers Endgame movie when Captain America, weary from being battered by the evil Thanos and his army, is on his last legs – only for the good guys to suddenly appear behind him in numbers to go to war.

They are excited. A new generation has football at least fighting for them instead of rolling their eyes, wringing their hands and believing harsh language will do the trick.

The battle over social media racism will not be won by Monday at midnight. The social media companies, however, are already rattled.

Social media platforms have not done enough to stop their users being abused

Steve Hatch, Instagram’s Northern Europe Vice President, sought to defend the company’s supposed inability to silence hate speech.

“Zero tolerance doesn’t mean zero incidence,” he argued on Friday. “We can’t stop people from being prejudiced, or from typing abuse.”

You can, however, prevent that abuse remaining on your platform for as long as it does. Just like social media does for copyright infringements.

The arguments won’t wash any more. We’ve seen through the PR offensives. There are only so many statements pointing to the numbers of accounts that are removed that people will stomach. There are only so many times Facebook can roll out their content policy manager Fadzai Madzingira to defend the indefensible.

Last week the company rolled out a feature to prevent users from viewing possibly abusive messages by filtering offensive words, phrases and emojis.

This week Blackpool called in police after their winger Grant Ward received racist abuse on Instagram following Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Sunderland.

That is why British sport, joined by sponsors, broadcasters and newspapers, is speaking with one voice today.

This weekend is just the start.

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