Local newsrooms join social media boycott in protest at online hate

Local Newsrooms across the UK have joined a boycott of social media being organised by sporting bodies to protest about online hate.

At 3pm today, the boycott began, spearheaded by leading figures in the world of football, and it will continue until Monday night.

The boycott, which is being described as a “show of solidarity against online abuse” hopes to encourage companies to take a stronger stance against racist and sexist abuse on their platforms.”

This morning, The Eastern Daily Press announced it was joining the boycott.

David Powles, editor of the EDP and Norwich Evening News, said the wider campaign needed to extend beyond just footballers.

He said: “Any form of abuse is unacceptable, but we have seen in recent years a massive increase in nasty and highly upsetting behaviour from some on social media. This needs to stop.

“”A lot of this abuse is directed towards footballers, but they are not alone in being the victims. It can affect anyone, from almost any background, and we hope that by joining this campaign it will show a united front in making it clear that no abuse is acceptable. Full stop.

“We are happy to lend our support to this social media boycott in the hope that it makes everyone stop and think about their own actions, changing them if need be.

“But we are also urging the social media companies to look at what they can do to bring in better and more stringent guidelines and protocols.”

The decision by the nation’s footballing giants to boycott social media comes following a string of well-publicised episodes which have seen players targeted by abusers.

Reach local news titles across the UK have also backed the boycott, with their sports social media channels falling silent at 3pm. The company has stressed it is standing alongside anyone who is subjected to hate online.

For the Manchester Evening News, that may mean not reporting on social media about Manchester City winning the title.

Writing on the Manchester Evening News, Manchester City writer Stuart Brennan said: “We at the Manchester Evening News stand with the players, the fans, and everyone else who — when they go on social media — are met, on a daily basis, with horrendous abuse based simply on the colour of their skin, their religion, their gender or their sexual orientation.

“The social media giants have been invited, then pleaded with, to do something about it.

“If this was happening, to the same extent, on our streets, and in our pubs, and workplaces, there would be hell to pay. It doesn’t happen as much face-to-face because racists, homophobes and misogynists are generally cowards, and social media gives them a chance to hide their sickness behind anonymity. That anonymity needs to be torn down, and the social media companies need to act.

“Even if it achieves nothing, a show of solidarity is extremely important. We need to show people who are subjected to hatred and abuse that they are not facing this alone.”

The Northern Echo has confirmed it is backing the boycott.

Echo chief sports writer Scott Wilson said: “There is a positive side to social media. It creates a series of networks between like-minded people, enabling information and opinions to be disseminated widely.

“It provides a voice to those who might otherwise be disenfranchised, and promotes parts of society that might otherwise be ignored.

“In a sporting setting, the leading social media sites open a window onto a world that would ordinarily be inaccessible, making sports stars appear more human and approachable, and therefore broadening their appeal.

“There has always been a downside, but in the past, it was relatively easy to ignore the occasional threatening comment or abusive message.

“Increasingly, though, the social media landscape has become an unregulated free-for-all where the threats have become more personal and the abuse more sickening. The more public your persona, the more unpalatable the diatribe becomes.

“The blackout, which has subsequently been joined by a host of other sporting organisations including the ECB, and all county cricket clubs, and the Gallagher Premiership, and all professional rugby union teams, will not change anything overnight.

“Sadly, it is unlikely to force the leading social media companies into the kind of fundamental reform that is badly required.

“It nudges the debate forward though, and that in itself is important. It highlights the way in which the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram do not adequately police their own platforms, preferring instead to grant abusers a cloak of anonymity that means it is impossible to trace and prosecute them. It flags up the social media sites’ failure to get serious when it comes to tackling serial abusers.

“And it helps expose the glaring differences between what a print newspaper like The Northern Echo is able to legally publish and what social media sites can carry and disseminate without any threat of being restrained by the law.”

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