Why the Free Press’ Rovers channels will join football's boycott of social media this weekend

The issue of this weekend’s social media boycott across football has provoked serious thought from me in the last few days.

Friday, 30th April 2021, 1:45 pm
Updated Friday, 30th April 2021, 1:55 pm

In this job I wear two hats. I’m the editor of the Free Press and with the determination to tell the right stories and back the just causes comes concern over web figures and copy sales.

But I’m also the Doncaster Rovers reporter, which has given me a privileged level of access to the people who this boycott is seeking to protect.

I was always leaning towards taking part, even if it meant losing a few clicks over the weekend, but it struck me during a press conference on Thursday exactly why I should.

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I asked a 20-year-old footballer with seven league appearances to his name whether he was worried about abuse he could receive as he becomes a more prominent figure in the game.

Typically forthright and bullish, AJ Greaves said no.

But the fact there was justification to ask the question to a young black footballer spoke volumes.

So, from 3pm on Friday until after 11.59pm on Monday, the Free Press’ Rovers accounts on social media will fall silent. I too will join the boycott from my personal social media accounts.

We are in a situation where players such as Greaves have every reason to be fearful of what they might find when they take out their phones and open up any of their social media apps.

We have all seen the examples of the horrendous racist abuse that high profile figures find themselves inundated with.

In Greaves’ responses to questions on the subject, there was a sense of resignation in his words. Not down and disheartened resignation but instead more of a cold and honest expectation that he will indeed be subjected to abuse at some stage.

Why on earth should anyone accept that the most vile abuse will be coming their way?

Part of Greaves’ resignation was an acknowledgement that the abuse will not simply stop.

Unfortunately, he is 100 per cent correct on that part of the issue.

What can be stopped are the channels down which these horrendous messages are sent.

This weekend’s action is designed to send a clear message to social media companies that it is their duty to make significant changes which will prevent such abuse from landing in the DMs and on the pages of these players.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and the rest - these companies generate a colossal amount of money every day.

And they are protective of that money. See how quickly they remove copyrighted material posted by a non-rights holder - a goal in the Champions League posted by a 14-year-old rather than BT Sport will be gone before it’s even been fully watched.

Unfortunately they are far less protective of their individual users.

A small amount of investment in programmes that will filter out the abuse would be a start. It is not as though this technology does not already exist.

But following on from that must be a zero tolerance policy for abusers. Ban offenders, stop them from re-registering under a different username and ensure the police swiftly have all the details they need to pursue action of their own.

None of that is asking the world from billion dollar companies.

But they don’t seem to be getting the message, which is why this weekend’s action is so important.

Coverage of Rovers by the Free Press will continue as normal. Our live blog will take you through Saturday’s match with Rochdale and you can expect all the typical post-game reaction and analysis as well as build-up to Tuesday’s trip to Blackpool.

But we will steadfastly be playing a very small part in a large scale social media boycott where we hope silence will speak tremendous volumes in sending a message to the companies that rely on us all being so vocal.

Change must come and they must help nurture it.

Liam Hoden

Editor, Doncaster Free Press

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In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.