This weekend the football world is boycotting social media in a digital protest against the abuse and bullying that is continuously allowed to take place on such platforms and the lack of action taken by social media companies. Other sports associations are joining in, along with individual sportspersons.
As someone who only enjoys football on a weekly basis, watching the team that we support in our household (Blue is the colour! Sorry editor Aaron), I was unaware of the boycott happening until it was mentioned during the Formula 1 practice show this morning (30.04).
During the discussion on the show, it was made clear that drivers including Lando Norris, and Lewis Hamilton would be joining in with the social media boycott and would not be using their various social media accounts all weekend.
When asked about the boycott Hamilton referred to the recent protests by football fans against the proposed Super League and said imagine if we all came together like that about racism, the changes we could make. As always, he was articulate, and passionate about this cause that is close to him.
So why are Formula 1, as an organisation, not supporting this social media boycott? They released a statement saying that they support the boycott but will not be participating in it. To be clear, it is always entirely up to organisations and individuals what causes they choose to support and in what ways, but I couldn’t help but question how much you can support a boycott, without actually boycotting.
In my mind, it’s like saying: “I support the boycott of Primark because of their multitude of human rights violations… but I’m still going to wilfully give them my money on a regular basis.” It just doesn’t hold any weight. As they say, actions speak louder than words.
While the boycott taking place this weekend has stemmed specifically from the barrage of racial abuse aimed at footballers (among other sports personalities), it is far too common to scroll through a comments section on social media and see multiple examples of abuse aimed at other commenters and creators.
Cyberbullying has been an issue since social media was created, I remember being told about it at school when the height of social media was Bebo and MySpace. Cyberbullying, online abuse, whatever you want to call it is a serious problem, there is no escape from it, there is no safe space to run away to and hide from your aggressors. Our lives are happening increasingly online, especially for young people and there are not enough safeguards in place to help the victims.
It is a huge problem to solve, and one with many facets and complications, but something needs to be done, action needs to be taken. Lives are being ruined because we have created an online world where people can hurl abuse at other people completely anonymously with little to no repercussion. We cannot simply stand by and watch as people rip apart the happiness and wellbeing of others just because they can.
There is obviously a level of responsibility to be taken by us as individuals using social media platforms, we should use the report function when we see someone being nasty to someone else, we should call people out if and when we feel we are able to, we should also make a concerted effort to spread as much positivity and kindness as we can on social media platforms. However, the larger systematic policy changes need to come from the social media platforms themselves.
As I said before, it is a hugely complex issue that does not have an easy fix, especially now that we have let it become such a normalised aspect of these apps and participation in them. But every time an individual is driven to harm themselves, to take their own lives because of the unchecked behaviour of a very vocal minority, these apps and their creators have blood on their hands. They have a duty of care to the people who are using their products and we, as a society, need to hold them accountable.