Arsenal have launched a #StopOnlineAbuse action plan as part of a collective effort within football aimed at combatting discrimination on social media and the club has vowed to work with governing bodies, clubs, and partners to eradicate it from the game.
The Gunners’ strategy includes running regular workshops with players at all levels at the club urging them to block users who abuse, and reminding them of the protocols surrounding reporting abuse.
Through its Arsenal for Everyone programme, the club are continuing ongoing diversity sessions for staff and have vowed to: “Lobby to strengthen measures and action taken by relevant authorities, as well as social media companies, to punish those responsible for abuse and discrimination.”
An internal taskforce has been set up to provide “emotional and practical” support for players when online abuse occurs, and the club says it will pursue legal action when required and ban any fan found responsible for any “unacceptable comments”.
The club are keen to involve supporters in ways to educate and inform people on the issue going forward and are redoubling efforts to reach out to local schools and communities and provide education on the subject.
They have also said the header image on their Twitter account, which has 17.2m followers, will be updated with creative designs and images from fans that contain the words #StopOnlineAbuse.
A statement on the club’s website read: “Social media is one of the ways our supporters across the world can feel closer to the club and our players, but across football and beyond we’ve seen an online world poisoned by hateful, racist and discriminatory words.
“We cannot underestimate the impact abuse has on individuals and the recent spate of abuse needs to be a wake-up call. We all need to work together to drive out this behaviour. This includes clubs, governing bodies, fans, media and politicians; but requires the help and commitment of social media companies.
“We know that we have a crucial role to play in bringing about real change. We are therefore outlining below our #StopOnlineAbuse action plan to ensure we are fulfilling our responsibility to protect our players and our diverse, global family and stamp out online abuse. “
“We are committed to working with the Premier League and other clubs, partners such as Kick It Out, The FA, PFA, police and other authorities to support victims of abuse and to be a collective and powerful voice in eradicating this from our game and wider society. “
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta said: “Abuse has to be eradicated completely because it’s causing a lot of damage. Social media platforms have a big responsibility on that.”
The club’s CEO Vinai Venkatesham added: “How do you explain to a black footballer that a piece of pirated content is taken down within minutes, but that’s not the same for racist abuse?”
Several Arsenal players are among the extensive list of professional footballers and sportspeople to have been subject to abuse online so far this season.
Eddie Nketiah was sent a racist message telling him to leave the club after the striker posted an image from training on his Twitter account. The social media platform later suspended the user in question.
Willian shared screenshots showing racist insults sent to him from two different Instagram users following Arsenal’s 1-1 Europa League draw against Benfica, while Granit Xhaka has received racially abusive messages from a number of Arsenal supporters and season ticket holders.
Bernd Leno also says he stopped reading comments on social media after he was once told to copy Robert Enke, the former Germany goalkeeper who died by suicide in 2009.
Following a rise in the levels of abuse, Instagram has said it will take tougher measures to clamp down on discrimination on its platform, including through the removal of accounts to prevent abusive messages from being sent by users.
Meanwhile, DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) secretary Oliver Dowden has said the government will change the law to make technology companies accountable for any malicious content, with the Online Harms Bill set to come before parliament later this year.
Thierry Henry says he will only return to social media “when it’s safe” and no longer “used as a weapon” for hate.
Former Arsenal and Barcelona striker Henry disabled all of his accounts on Saturday, describing current levels of racism and bullying on online platforms as “too toxic to ignore”.
The 43-year-old’s action – announced in a statement on Friday – comes during a spate of hate posts directed at footballers, himself included.
“Recently it happened to me off social media, it happened on social media. But recently it’s been coming quite a lot, players getting abused,” he told Good Morning Britain.
“I just think that it (social media) is not a safe place at the minute. People are getting racially abused but, when you see the statement, I talk also about bullying, harassment that can cause mental issues, people commit suicide because of it.
“It’s very difficult to eradicate everything but can it be safer? We all know that it is a great tool but a lot of people are using it as a weapon. Why? Because they can hide behind fake accounts.
“I know that a little portion of the world is using it as a weapon. ‘Can it be safer?’ is all I am asking. I will be back on it, when it’s safe.”
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