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April 30, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:14am

Sun leads publisher boycott of social media with four-day Twitter suspension in protest over racism

By Charlotte Tobitt

Publishers joining the social media boycott led by English football to protest racist abuse and discrimination online include The Sun, Reach, The Guardian, the i and the Evening Standard.

By choosing to get involved in solidarity with players and fans, news brands are giving up a chunk of ad revenue between 3pm today (Friday) and 11.59pm on Monday.

Press Gazette’s latest analysis of SimilarWeb online audience figures shows The Sun and Guardian both derived 10% of their traffic from social media in March. More than a fifth (22%) of visitors to The Mirror’s website came from social.

The Sun will not post on any of its Twitter accounts for the full almost four-day period.

The Sun’s sport, football, TV and showbiz accounts – the four specifically mentioned in its statement – have a combined 754,000 followers. The main Sun Twitter account, which will also go silent, has 1.8m.

It said: “We will also support any of our journalists who want to stand with the boycott.

“We are proud to back this initiative and continue our opposition to discrimination on social media.”

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The Sun last month broke the story that Arsenal legend Thierry Henry was quitting social media, telling the newspaper: “There is freedom of speech. But you can’t shout whatever you want in an airport, a cinema, a police station. This is my point: accountability.”

Sports social media accounts for titles across Reach, the UK’s largest commercial publisher and largest regional publisher, are taking part in the blackout “in solidarity with everyone who faces hate and discrimination online”. Many Reach sports journalists will also take part.

News brands including the Daily Mirror, Manchester Evening News, Liverpool Echo, Football.London and Reach’s Live network of regional websites are also involved.

The Guardian has chosen to suspend posting on its UK football and sport Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, with many of its sports journalists also personally taking part.

Head of sport Will Woodward said: “This move should be seen hand in hand with our commitment to keep reporting on and investigating this important subject, including an in-depth special report in the coming weeks.

“We generally aren’t in favour of boycotts or blackouts and believe news and robust comment are essential. But the relentless abuse must stop. It’s important to take a stand.”

The i, owned by DMGT, will not post on its Facebook and Twitter sports pages. Sports editor Ally McKay said the paper has “long campaigned vociferously for change regarding abuse online”.

The Evening Standard will also suspend posting on all its sports accounts, saying it is “calling for real change”.

The publishers join broadcasters including News UK’s Talksport, Sky Sports and BT Sport who are all taking part in the full social media boycott.

Head of Talksport Lee Clayton said: “Talksport’s social media is an important part of our multimedia offering with 5.6m followers across our social platforms. But now is the time to stand with the football community against hate.

“Racism is of course a big part of this boycott. But it also spans sexism, hateful and hostile content, discrimination and general abuse too. As a station we are taking steps to protect our own presenters from abuse from social media trolls and this is an important statement that online hate will not be tolerated.”

BT Sport said the only content appearing on its social channels over the weekend would be in relation to social media abuse as it launches a campaign, “Draw The Line”, to raise awareness of the impact it has and advocate for change.

The sports teams at titles from the UK’s second largest regional publisher Newsquest, including the Northern Echo, Oxford Mail and Swindon Advertiser, will boycott Twitter and Facebook for the weekend.

Oxford Mail senior sports reporter James Roberts said: “We understand and appreciate this will affect our ability to report on our teams, but as a human rights issue, we feel nothing is more important than equality.”

JPI Media titles following suit including the Burnley Express. Sports editor Chris Boden said: “We can film a live video at a game, but if there is music playing in the background, it will be taken down due to copyright by these platforms. And yet, people can force their bile on others, and there appears to be little appetite to stop it. How can that be right?”

Also taking part are Midland News Association titles Express & Star and Shropshire Star, and Archant and its sports journalists including at the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star.

Plus the Jewish Telegraph, which said: “Our own experience of daily antisemitic abuse shows that far more needs to be done to combat online hate.”

Writing in The Sun, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said today social media companies could face multi-million pounds if they fail to remove racist abuse under the planned Online Safety Bill.

The Premier League, along with its fellow boycotters across sport, is calling for actions like preventative filtering and blocking measures to stop discriminatory abuse being sent or seen, the banning of perpetrators and supporting of law enforcement, and warnings to be displayed if a user writes an abusive message with a requirement to enter personal data if they wish to send it.

Facebook and Twitter respond

A Facebook spokesperson said: “No one should have to experience abuse anywhere, and it’s against our policies to harass or discriminate against people on Instagram or Facebook.

“We agree with and have already made progress on many of the players’ suggestions, including taking tougher action against people breaking our rules in DMs. We also recently announced that, starting next week, we’ll provide new tools, based on consultation with footballers and anti-discrimination experts, to help prevent people seeing abusive messages from strangers.

“We continue to work with UK police on hate speech, and respond to valid legal requests for information, which can be essential for investigations. We’ll continue listening to feedback and fighting hate and racism on our platform.”

A Twitter spokesperson said: “Racist behaviour, abuse and harassment have absolutely no place on our service and alongside our partners in football, we condemn racism in all its forms. We are resolute in our commitment to ensure the football conversation on our service is safe for fans, players and everyone involved in the game.”

Twitter said since the Premier League season started on 12 September last year there had been more than 30m tweets about football in the UK and 7,000 removed.

“This represents roughly 0.02% of the overall football conversation in the UK and does not reflect the vast majority of people who engage in vibrant discussions about football on Twitter,” it said.

“Racism is a deep societal and complex issue and everyone has a role to play. We are committed to dong our part and continue to work closely with valued partners in football, government and police, along with the working group convened by Kick It Out to identify ways to tackle this issue collectively – both online and away from social media.”

Picture: Pool via Reuters/Mike Egerton

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