Piara Powar: My three-point plan to solve what has become a desperate situation

Piara Powar
·2-min read

I look forward to the silence this weekend, as English football, other sports and international bodies come together for a boycott of social media.

Make no mistake, whatever is achieved, so many different entities are coming together — players, clubs, leagues and governing bodies — and this is a significant moment in the fight against discrimination.

The situation is desperate, the type of abuse the boycott is drawing attention to is now very common and, worse, is being met with indifference from social media platforms.

The most high-profile cases of abuse involve racism towards black and other minority players, but there is also an incredible level of homophobia and sexism.

We have been conducting research on social media abuse around European matches and there are three things we want to see.

The first is that platforms step up and do more to stop the perpetrators of hate speech. We know the artificial intelligence exists to prevent and identify discrimination, to take down posts immediately, to warn users even as they type posts — they should be using it. At the moment, each platform seems to be trying to remove less content so as not to harm their growth and engagement.

Secondly, a cultural change needs to take place. For a lot of people, commenting on social media is an extension of their support for football, but too many go too far and turn to abuse too easily.

It is in some ways a similar situation to the atmosphere on the terraces in the 1990s, when people thought it was acceptable to go to a stadium and abuse black players.

A cultural change began to take shape there, other people in the crowd would shout down the individuals being abusive and that led to a change in the environment. The platforms need to lead that cultural change this time.

The final thing is Government regulation. Government intervention is what the platforms fear most. If a government steps in and sets rules on things such as timeframes on taking down abusive tweets, as the German government have, with sanctions that include repeated hefty fines and regulatory restrictions, that begins to have an impact.

This weekend's boycott is a powerful act of unity but we should be realistic. I am not sure it will be enough to convince the platforms, who are all based in the US and are now huge companies, to accept their responsibilities.

To do that, we may need clubs, players and leagues to come off the platforms completely, not an action many of them are prepared to take.

But when you see people coming together, you realise that we are in a different era, that things are moving on. I would attribute this to the Black Lives Matter movement and all of the struggles that brought us to the point we are at, and a growing understanding of the power of collective action.

In that sense what is happening this weekend is hugely significant.

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