Why The Gazette is joining football's social media boycott this weekend

The Gazette stands shoulder to shoulder with Blackpool’s Grant Ward after the vile racist abuse he received on social media.

Friday, 30th April 2021, 7:30 am

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Grant Ward racially abused on social media following Blackpool's victory against...

The timing of it couldn’t be any more relevant, given it comes on the eve of a social media boycott which Blackpool were taking part in.

The Gazette will also join the blanket ban, which runs from 3pm today to 11.59pm on Monday night.

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I will continue to write stories before, during and after Saturday’s game against Northampton Town. Those articles will appear on The Gazette’s website as normal.

I won’t be posting from my Twitter account and the stories I write won’t appear on the timeline of The Gazette’s social media pages.

As a victim of social media harassment myself, this is an issue I already felt strongly about and was planning to join in with the boycott prior to the abuse Ward suffered on his Instagram account.

I’m not going to pretend what I suffered came anywhere close to the abuse footballers have to deal with, but it still had an impact.

The Gazette is joining this weekend's social media boycott

While one tweet might not have appeared like much to an outsider when taken in isolation, the vitriol I received – which was reported to police – had more of an impact because it was part of a sustained period of online harassment.

While I took no formal action, the abuse eventually subsided – but I’m more wary of how I behave on social media.

I’d like to think I do a good job of engaging with supporters on social media, Twitter especially. I’ve always wanted to be open and approachable.

I welcome feedback on what I write and report, and I actively encourage my followers to disagree and debate with me, as long as it’s healthy.

There’s a clear distinction between disagreeing with someone in a constructive manner and simply resorting to hate, vitriol and abuse.

I’m well aware of what this job entails. Journalists aren’t the most popular people as it is, so a degree of friction is to be expected.

It’s now come to a point where, because of the toxicity, I’m unsure I’d use Twitter if work didn’t require it. No-one needs the hassle.

For others, such as footballers, you could say they should just come off social media but in this day and age, clubs are increasingly keen for their players to have an online presence to engage with supporters, especially this season when no fans are allowed inside the ground. It doesn’t solve the problem, does it?

For those who haven’t suffered online abuse, it’s difficult to explain why it has such an effect on you.

In an ideal world, you’d brush it off, block and ignore. It isn’t that easy. Even the most innocuous message can knock you for six.

A message compiled in seconds can often stay in your head for the remainder of the day.

It isn’t just you it affects, either. It can have a knock-on effect on your close ones, friends and family. I was in a state of denial at one point, became more reclusive and hid my feelings away.

While I consider myself hugely fortunate not to struggle with mental health, it still had an effect.

I shudder to think what could potentially happen if one of these messages was directed at the wrong person.

So why should we put up with this? This weekend’s social media boycott might not achieve anything but it’s brought a spotlight to the issue and raised more awareness. There now seems to be widespread agreement that something needs to change.

Those who oppose the boycott might argue it’s the people sending the messages who are the problem and the social media companies simply provide a platform.

There might be a smidgen of truth to that argument, but still, can we honestly say Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are doing enough to combat it?

Where’s the moderation? Why are people able to hide behind anonymous accounts, spew hate and say what they want without fear of punishment?

Yes, an account might be banned, usually for a week or so, after being reported several times.

As I know only too well, there’s nothing to stop these trolls from popping up again a few days later under a different guise. It’s like playing a game of Whack-a-Mole, only you’re struggling to find the hammer.

Why is it that Twitter is able to clamp down so quickly on copyrighted footage of goals, yet they can’t do anything about racist abuse?

No-one can persuade me these companies are doing all they can to eradicate hate.

Yes, long-term, it’s about education but there are things we can do and we must do them now.

I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers. Forcing people to supply identification seems like a good idea, but I understand there are drawbacks and pitfalls.

It wouldn’t necessarily stop the hate, either. Some people appear quite happy to put their name to their abuse, but if we can make a start, that’s something.

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