French professional football coach and former player Thierry Henry has announced that he will disable all of his social media accounts on Saturday, saying that the platforms are “too toxic to ignore” after recent instances of racism online.
Footballers have long been subject to racism abuse online, and Manchester United midfielder Frederico Rodrigues de Paula Santos, known as Fred, and England international Jude Bellingham were the latest to suffer this on Instagram last weekend.
Fred responded to the abuse on Instagram by posting a picture of him taking the knee behind the words “no more racism”, while Bellingham shared a screen grab of racist emojis that were sent to him, which he captioned: “Just another day on social media…”
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….
While footballers have criticised social media for racism, Henry is the biggest name to announce he is boycotting them in response, calling on the people in power to ensure social media is regulated to prevent racism and bullying taking place.
Critics predict more will follow.
In a statement posted on Twitter and Instagram on Friday, the former Arsenal and Barcelona striker said: “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.
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…. pic.twitter.com/gXSObqo4xg
— Thierry Henry (@ThierryHenry) March 26, 2021
“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.”
Fred tweeted last week: “Social media comments filled with hate and, above all, racism: we cannot feed that culture.
“We cannot accept it. We have to fight it always. We are bigger and better than that. Enough!”
Mr Henry, who last month left his managerial role at Montreal Impact, has 2.3 million followers on Twitter and a further 2.7million on Instagram.
In July, the World Cup winner took the knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds ahead of Impact’s MLS game with New England Revolution in a stand against racism following the recent death of George Floyd.
Manchester United’s Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford are other high-profile footballers with large followings who have been subject to racism online.
Mr Rashford, who was awarded an MBE for his work fighting child food poverty, spoke out in January after receiving several racist messages on Instagram.
Mr Rashford tweeted: “Humanity and social media at its worst. Yes I’m a black man and I live every day proud that I am.
“No one, or no one comment, is going to make me feel any different. So sorry if you were looking for a strong reaction, you’re just simply not going to get it here.”
He said he would not share screenshots of the messages as it would be irresponsible.
“I have beautiful children of all colours following me and they don’t need to read it. Beautiful colours that should only be celebrated,” he added.
Professional footballers boycotted social media for 24 hours last April in protest of how football authorities and social media responded to racist incidents.
Earlier this week US model and television personality Chrissy Teigen announced she was quitting Twitter due to abuse and harassment on the platform.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, took action on 6.6million pieces of hate speech between October and December last year but are eager to keep working with others to drive societal change.
A spokesperson for Facebook said: “We don’t want discriminatory abuse on Instagram and we remove it when we find it. Between October and December last year we took action on 6.6 million pieces of hate speech content on Instagram, 95 per cent of which we found before anyone reported it to us.
“We recently announced that we’ll take tougher action when we become aware of people breaking our rules in DMs and we have built tools to help people protect themselves. We’ll continue this work, and know these problems are bigger than us, so are working with others to collectively drive societal change through action and education.
“We’re committed to our ongoing work with the industry, government and others including our work with Kick It Out.”
Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said on Twitter: “No one should have to switch off social media because of abuse.
“Social media firms must do more to tackle this and we are introducing new laws to hold platforms to account. This is complex and we must get it right, but I’m absolutely determined to tackle racist abuse online.