Racism, sexism, homophobia and death threats now regularly form part of the daily life of many leading football stars.
Social media has allowed fans to get closer than ever before to their favorite players, but for others, it has provided an open channel to anonymously send abusive and hateful messages, something the companies that run these platforms seem either unwilling or unable to stop.
Chelsea Women’s manager Emma Hayes, widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the game, says she regularly witnesses first-hand the impact abusive messages have on her players and, if it was up to her, would “100%” take all of them off social media.
It’s become so bad that if companies such as Facebook and Twitter do not begin to tackle this issue seriously, Hayes says, then she can envisage some footballers contemplating suicide.
“I have to live it every day,” Hayes explains to WEBICNEWS’s Amanda Davies. “I have to manage young people that are maybe flavor of the month, so to speak, online and then treated so despicably the next, maybe even by the same people — and then the impact that has on them and their internal struggle, that translates into massive underperformance.
“I feel that social media, while it is a force for good in so many ways, I think if that doesn’t change quite quickly, we will be talking about some of the more severe ends of perhaps people taking their lives with some of the abuse that they experience online.
“I see what it does to their mood, I see what it does to their mindset, I see what it does to their confidence.
“But there is no denying there are vulnerable athletes with mental health issues across the board that — off the back of a bad game or off of being a woman, or being gay, or being of different color, or ethnicity — experience vile, abusive messages that could certainly put them in a position where they could contemplate that.”
These fears were echoed by former Premier League footballer Anton Ferdinand at a recent Home Affairs Committee inquiry into online abuse, during which he spoke alongside two other former players, Lianne Sanderson and Marvin Sordell, about the online abuse they had received.
“There is a mental health issue of not being able to escape it. My worry is, what are the social media companies waiting for?” he asked. “Are they waiting for a high-profile footballer to kill themselves, or a member of their family to commit suicide? Is that what they’re waiting for?
“Because if they’re waiting for that it’s too late. This comes down to if [social media companies] really want to make change? So far, their words are that they want to but their actions are different.”
Following the high-profile social media abuse of some England players after the Euro 2020 final in July, Facebook issued a statement describing the abuse as “abhorrent.”
In that statement, Facebook said that, between January and March of this year, it removed more than 33 million pieces of hate speech from its platforms, which also include Instagram, with more than 93% of it removed before it had been reported.
“No one should have to experience racist abuse anywhere, and we don’t tolerate it on Facebook and Instagram,” a Facebook spokesperson told WEBICNEWS Sport.
“We remove racist content as soon as we see it and respond to valid legal requests to help with police investigations.
“We’ve also built the Hidden Words tool to prevent people from seeing this abuse in their comments and in DMs and encourage everyone to use it. People can also limit comments and DM requests during spikes of increased attention.
“No one thing will fix this challenge overnight, but we’re committed to continuing our work with the Premier League and others to help keep our community safe from abuse.”
In its response to WEBICNEWS, a Twitter spokesperson pointed to a blog post published on their website on August 10.
“We condemn racism in all its forms — our aim is to become the world’s most diverse, inclusive, and accessible tech company, and lead the industry in stopping such abhorrent views being seen on our platform,” the statement read.
“We were appalled by those who targeted players from the England football team with racist abuse following the Euro 2020 Final.
“While our automated tools are now able to detect a majority of the abusive Tweets we remove, we also continue to take action from reports.”