ENOUGH was enough for former France football international and Arsenal striker Thierry Henry.

The highly respected individual recently made the decision to shut down all his social media platforms as a protest against their collective failure to regulate racism.

The scourge of social media racial abuse has been extraordinary of late and seems to show no signs of abating, despite several campaigns to the contrary.

Henry stated:

“Hi Guys. From tomorrow morning I will be removing myself from social media until the people in power are able to regulate their platforms with the same vigour and ferocity that they currently do when you infringe copyright. The sheer volume of racism, bullying and resulting mental torture to individuals is too toxic to ignore. There HAS to be some accountability. It is far too easy to create an account, use it to bully and harass without consequence and still remain anonymous. Until this changes, I will be disabling my accounts across all social platforms. I’m hoping this happens soon.”

Henry recently stood down from his head coaching position with MLS’ Montreal Impact last month citing family reasons. The team debuted at the MLS is Back tournament last summer, when Henry took a knee from kickoff until the 8:46 mark of the first half – the amount of time police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck until his death.

Henry was one of two Black head coaches in the league and who used social media regularly to communicate his thoughts and feelings about Floyd’s death amidst call for changes.

Henry’s decision was prompted after Jude Bellingham, a 17-year-old midfielder for Borussia Dortmund, shared screenshots of abusive comments on his social media posts. There were monkey and feces emojis and derogatory messages about his mother. He captioned it, “Just another day on social media…”

Other incidents include several soccer players, including Patrick van Aanholt, Kemar Roofe and Rhian Brewster this month. Arsenal midfielder Willian shared screenshots of abuse last month and wrote, “Something needs to change! The fight against racism continues.”

The English Football Association (FA) has been quick to voice their concern. They have asked social media companies to review their policies and take more responsibility for content.

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said:

“They should take responsibility that they are the publishers of their content and they, actually, are the only ones that have the technology to act, to prevent it even being published, and to enable the authorities to take swift action when it is.

“They should be doing more and we’re continuing to put pressure on them to do that.”

Chelsea released a statement in January after Reece James was targeted, saying: “Something needs to change and it needs to change now”.

Manchester United duo Anthony Martial and Axel Tuanzebe were also racially abused online after the side’s loss to Sheffield United, with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer calling for stronger intervention from social media platforms.

Recently, the Premier League launched its ‘No Room For Racism Action Plan’, with the organisation’s CEO, Richard Masters, saying: “There is no place for racism in our sport and the Premier League will continue to take action against all forms of discrimination so that football is inclusive and welcoming for all.”

Issues of racial abuse are not new to football. Nor to any other sport. Players have been subjected to discrimination and abuse for decades, even before the advent of the internet and social media platforms.

Indeed, the latter has had an ambivalent role in addressing a number of social issues. The net effect is largely dependent on the veracity of the individual and their morality.

Twitter and other platforms have long been under pressure to change their practices against anonymity of users and their antisocial tirades.

Indeed, Twitter recently said “There is no room for racist abuse” on its platform and promised to review the matter.

Meanwhile, Twitter heavyweight, American model and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen also announced her decision to leave the platform after experiencing abuse.

“It’s time for me to say goodbye,” before deactivating an account with more than 13 million followers.

“My desire to be liked and fear of pissing people off has made me somebody you didn’t sign up for, and a different human than I started out here as! Live well, tweeters,” she added.

The trend to abandon social media platforms appears to be gathering momentum. More needs to be done, as being subjected to online vitriol leads to mental health issues, culminating in the propensity for suicidal impulses and behaviour.

Certainly, the issue of anonymity needs to be debated. However, it also invites criticism as to the topic of censorship and the freedom to express opinion, and who controls information dissemination.

The answer is simple. If an individual is discriminated against based on race, colour, age, gender, religion, disability and social status then anonymity needs to be abandoned.

These are the beliefs of Ludo Aequitas, a global initiative promoting mental health and equality through sport.


Image via theworldgame.sbs.com.au

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