The reaction to English football’s social media boycott

Will English football's social media boycott make a difference?

Stop online abuse
An image spread across social media as a means to stop the spread of social media

Stakeholders of English football returned to social media at midnight last night, after the highly publicised boycott of social media sites since Friday afternoon due to a lack of action to prevent online abuse.

Last year a PFA report found that 43 per cent of players have been racially abused based on data collected from the Twitter accounts of 44 high profile current and former professionals. The situation has reached boiling point in the 2020/21 campaign with isolated incidents of abuse towards players recurring more often than ever before.

Now, after the movement has occurred, the question is whether there will be a need for repeated boycotts or if there will be action to squeeze out abuse from online platforms, where it so easily spreads.

As someone who has experienced and dealt with abuse first-hand working in the industry, Huddersfield Town Content and Media Relations Executive Eleanor Haigh hopes that this weekend’s boycott can spark necessary changes to the shocking state of social media platforms.

Eleanor Haigh pitch side
Huddersfield Town Content and Media Relations Executive, Eleanor Haigh, hopes the social media boycott will spark changes for good [credit: Eleanor Haigh]

“It’s such an important message and as a club it was so amazing to be a part of something that will hopefully have an impact,” she said, on taking part in the boycott. “At the same time though it was strange working the game, we didn’t have half of our usual jobs to do as we weren’t putting anything out.

“It was an important game for us as well, as we secured safety, and not being able to tweet that and celebrate with the fans was odd, but at the end of the day the main thing is, it was something that we did really need to take part in and we’re glad that us as a club, so many other organisations and the players were able to be involved.

“As a media team we spoke to all the players before it began, we explained what was going on and why. We couldn’t tell them what to do and force them to take part, but we really encouraged it. It was amazing to see that so many were willing to work together to make a difference.”

Haigh explained how she feels fortunate that at her club abuse is not as such a prominent issue as at clubs in the Premier League, although it is still something she has been forced to deal with as part of her role.

“Being at Huddersfield I feel quite lucky as it has never really been a problem at the club, maybe that’s because we’re only a Championship club or it’s just the way the fans are.

“There was one incident back when I was on placement where Philip Billing got sent a very racist message. He tweeted it out on his socials with a thumbs down emoji and the club released a statement condemning the messages, got the police involved and a 16-year-old boy was arrested. That’s not only our most recent one, but also probably the first in a long time as well.”

This is not her only experience, however. Unfortunately she has also been the target of sexist abuse as the face of the club Instagram account in the 2019/20 campaign.

“On a personal note, I’ve been quite lucky. I know some girls in football who have had it really bad, and I feel lucky to have not have been sent anything horrific.

“Last season I did quite a lot of the matchday Instagram stories as the club tried out new things. I’d get messages like: ‘You should be washing the kits’, ‘get back to the kitchen,’ ‘they’ve only put you on here because we’re doing so poorly and you’re a girl,’ ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about,’ and so on.

“I’ve got quite a thick skin and it’s never anything that has really offended me, but at the same time it shouldn’t happen in the first place and I don’t understand why anybody feels the need to do it.

“Working in football is a hard industry whether you are a man or woman – it’s cutthroat and hard to get a job – so it’s just annoying that sometimes people would interpret that I’m just a token female when I’m not, I’ve got this job because I’ve studied and worked hard to earn it.”

As a media officer for the club’s Academy also, she was particularly critical of social media companies and their role in abuse spreading across platforms. It is her hope, along with countless others, that the boycott will be a catalyst in altering this.

“The state of social media platforms is genuinely ridiculous,” she said. “I went through it with the players, clubs will send them evidence when it happens and the reply every single time is that they can’t do anything about it, but when an unedited picture of Khloe Kardashian goes out it gets deleted in five hours.

“They have the power to act, and they know about what goes on, they’re just too afraid of losing too many accounts and too much engagement.

“It scares me as so many big players are young nowadays, I do a lot with the academy and it genuinely scares me that one of my 16-year-olds could get racist abuse one day, and that Twitter or Instagram won’t do anything about it.

“Football is such a massive part of social media, you have club fan accounts, player fan accounts, we had fans of our own team live tweeting our game as we weren’t doing it.

“Football is such a massive part of it and it’s awful because they say they don’t tolerate any forms of racism and that they take a stand against it, but they’re yet to show it.

“People might argue that four days isn’t a long time, but because it covered every league, not just the Premier League and the Championship, hopefully we’ve all come together. Even if this isn’t the thing that makes social media take action straight away, I hope it is something that will make them listen.”