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Getting social media giants like Facebook to do something about the abuse Grant Ward suffered on Tuesday is a whole different matter

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Scott Stinson Police are investigating the racial abuse against Blackpool Football Club winger Grant Ward on Instagram Tuesday night. Photo by Grant Ward / Facebook

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Blackpool beat Sunderland 1-0 on Tuesday night, which was a fairly routine football result in a fairly routine game.

Anyone who’s watched the Netflix documentary series about Sunderland AFC will also know that the result was a bit of a routine too. Sunderland are poised to move up to the Championship Division, the second division of English football, not so long ago. Instead, he’s stepped on a lot of rakes and is now just struggling to keep one shot up.

What happened shortly after the game was also worryingly routine. Blackpool winger Grant Ward has been racially abused on Instagram. The police are investigating.

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Thank you everyone for the news and @BlackpoolFC who have been very supportive of us. The account was reported to Instagram and the police were investigated. After all that has happened, people are still sending racist messages online on fake accounts. Something needs to be done – https://t.co/z9BK4S2dS2

– Grant Ward (@GrantWard_) April 28, 2021

That people are abusive on social media is nothing new, and the fact that some users hide behind anonymity isn’t particularly offensive. But the extent to which black athletes are affected by this type of abuse is both gross and depressing. It has become a particular plague of football in England, and this weekend all professional sport is in this country – the Premier League, the Women’s Super League, the 90+ men’s clubs in the football pyramid and much of the media covers the sport – is boycotting social media to raise awareness of the problem. The hope is that by walking away from Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for four days, they will put pressure on these companies to find a way to prevent this type of abuse from recurring.

Obviously, it won’t fix the problem. But it is a start.

The alarming part of developments in England is how quickly the reports of racial abuse went from relatively infrequent to alarmingly frequent. It wasn’t long ago that these things only happened when a black player made a significant mistake, causing the ire of fans, some of whom would be particularly abusive. Such behavior is hideous, but the effect of raising awareness of these incidents only seems to have encouraged more of them. Black players are now racially attacked when they have had good games for an inferior team, or by fans of the opposing team when they score a goal. So a black player who is in a good shooting position will see something unfold in two ways: if he misses he will be racially abused by his own fans, and if he scores he will get it from the other Page. In the case of Blackpool’s Grant Ward, he neither scored the only goal of the game, nor did he do anything to allow one thing: he was just there, a black and thus a target for racist vitriol. Manchester City’s Kyle Walker received hateful messages on his Instagram account following his team’s win over Tottenham over the weekend, and the perpetrator even stated he did nothing to deserve it. He just wanted to racially ridicule someone and Walker was his unfortunate target. So far, you can google almost every black soccer player in England – as well as Asia and the Middle East – and find stories on social media about how they experienced such abuse. Ian Wright, a television commentator who hasn’t played in two decades, was racially abused by a teenager who was unhappy about losing a FIFA video game in which Wright was one of his players. (After all, this is no different from screaming abuse in Super Mario if you haven’t completed a level.) The Irish teenager was convicted under hate speech laws but was suspended in February after the judge accepted his apologies as sincere . “I’m disappointed,” Wright said at the time. “I’m tired. We’re all tired.”

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That is an understandable feeling. A West Midlands police force gave an officer the full-time role tracking down football-related offenders in hate crimes in February. This is the frequency of the occurrence. Even so, the incidents continue. Some players have stated that they will not share pictures of the abuse because they fear the senders will seek that notoriety, while others point out in hopes that the perpetrators will be caught and punished. Both arguments are justified. This weekend’s boycott goes beyond the frustrated handshake to at least do something, and is robbing social media giants of the usual amount of content generated by several days of English football.

But getting the same social media giants to do something about it is a whole different matter. There have been calls to end the anonymity that the platforms offer, but the tech companies know that forcing all users to be identifiable would drive away many of those users. Facebook, which owns Instagram, has announced that it is developing technologies that will prevent users from sending messages with racist content. The fact that tech companies have been slow to implement such a change casts doubt on their desire. In a nutshell, how much does it offer anonymous people to yell at strangers whatever they want, no matter how toxic it may be, a core part of their business?

Of course, the best way for an athlete to avoid social media abuse is not to be on social media. English football is starting a four-day boycott, but one that lasts much longer could have a better chance of taking action.

Postmedia news

sstinson @ postmedia.

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