Phil Neville calls for social media boycott until racist abuse is tackled

The Lionesses boss says he has “lost faith in social media companies” after the repeated failure to address discriminatory abuse on their platforms.

By Press Association Published: 20 August 2019 - 3.38pm

Phil Neville is calling on the “football community” to boycott social media platforms until they do more to tackle the discriminatory abuse directed at players.

Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham, Reading’s Yakou Meite and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba have all received vile, racist abuse online after failing to score penalties in the last week.

Pogba’s treatment prompted a rapid response from his club, which issued a strong statement on Tuesday morning to condemn the abuse and urge social media companies “to take action”.

The French star’s teammates Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard have both tweeted their support, too, while United defender Harry Maguire has suggested that people should only be able to open social media accounts if they provide proof of identity.

England Women’s manager Neville, who played nearly 400 games for United, agrees with Maguire but believes companies like Twitter will only act if they are forced to do so.

Speaking to reporters at St George’s Park, the Lionesses boss said the most recent outbreak of overt racism on social media shows the problem is “not going away” despite the positive work being done by anti-discrimination groups such as Kick It Out and the football authorities.

“I think we probably have to take drastic measures now as a football community – I’ve had it with my players on social media, the Premier League stars and the Championship have had it,” said Neville.

“I just wonder whether as a football community we come off social media. Because Twitter won’t do anything about it, Instagram won’t do anything about it – they send you an email reply saying they’ll investigate but nothing happens.

Paul Pogba missed a penalty against Wolves on Monday and subsequently received abuse online
Paul Pogba missed a penalty against Wolves on Monday and subsequently received abuse online (Nick Potts/PA)

“I’ve lost total faith in whoever runs these social media departments, so let’s send a powerful message: come off social media (for) six months. Let’s see the effect it has on these social media companies.”

Whether enough broadcasters, clubs, leagues, players and sponsors would avoid social media for so long is debatable but the Professional Footballers’ Association did organise a successful boycott in April following a spate of racist incidents targeting Danny Rose and Raheem Sterling.

Neville said his players are regularly subjected to abuse online and he reminded the room of the appalling death and rape threats that were sent to Karen Carney following a Champions League game between Chelsea and Fiorentina last year.

“My players get that kind of abuse all the time, whether it’s racist, whether it’s sexist, whether it’s homophobic, they get that kind of abuse,” he said.

“Nothing gets done about it – that’s why I’ve lost faith in social media companies.”

Asked if the football industry should collectively sit down and discuss this with social media companies, Neville said: “Don’t we have that? Don’t we have a task force? The FA are doing everything possible, the Premier League have got campaigns and are doing everything possible.

“We’re plugging holes here and then there’s leaks elsewhere, and I’m just focusing on the social media aspect of what Paul went through last night, Tammy last week, my players daily.”

Twitter responded to “strongly condemn” the online abuse aimed at players and revealed it had “permanently suspended a series of accounts”.

Tammy Abraham saw his penalty saved by Liverpool keeper Adrian in the Super Cup last week
Tammy Abraham saw his penalty saved by Liverpool keeper Adrian in the Super Cup last week (Nick Potts/PA)

The social media company is in dialogue with the PFA and Kick It Out but, in a statement released to the PA news agency, claimed “this is a societal issue and requires a societal response”.

Twitter’s statement read: “We’re fully aware of and share the concerns surrounding online racist abuse towards certain footballers in the UK over recent days.

“We strongly condemn this unacceptable behaviour, and have now permanently suspended a series of accounts for violating our Hateful Conduct Policy.

“We’re proactively monitoring the conversation online and will continue taking robust action on any account which violates our Rules.

“This is a societal issue and requires a societal response. This is why we maintain a dialogue with both the PFA and Kick It Out and are committed to working together to address abusive online and racist behaviour across the industry.

“We continue to liaise closely with our partners to identify meaningful solutions to this unacceptable behaviour — both offline and on.”

Kick It Out has been talking about the rise of discrimination on social media for years and has repeatedly called on Facebook, Twitter and others to take down offensive posts more quickly, block accounts and report cases to the police.

In a statement in response to the latest incidents, the charity said: “The number of posts such as these since the start of the season further highlights how discriminatory abuse online is out of control.

“Without immediate and the strongest possible action these cowardly acts will continue to grow.”

United’s statement suggested they will act decisively as it said the club will “work to identify the few involved in these incidents and take the strongest course of action available to us”.

In a statement released to PA, a Football Association spokesperson said: “Discrimination, in all its forms, is entirely unacceptable.

“We have received assurances from government that they will hold social media companies to account and that they will put in place world-leading plans to make online companies legally responsible for tackling online abuse on social media platforms.

“We look forward to working with both government and social media platforms to drive this forward.”

The new sports minister Nigel Adams told PA: “Racism must never be tolerated. The football season is only a few weeks old and yet we’ve already witnessed sickening examples of racist abuse against players.

“The government and the football authorities are completely committed to helping stamp out discrimination from the game.

“We have been clear that social media companies must do more and the government will hold them to account.”