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Open Letter Calls For Social Media Platforms to Eradicate Online Hate Speech

UK advertising leaders sign an open letter calling for social media platforms to step up and prevent online hate speech once and for all.

When England defied all expectations and rose to the final of this year’s UEFA European tournament, we knew that emotions would run high. With millions of Brits watching the final on Sunday night through trembling fingers, we all felt a post-lockdown injection of joy was long overdue. Unfortunately, with a slap in the face that England fans are all too familiar with, the game was lost to Italy on penalties.

By pure coincidence, the three players who missed their penalties happened to be black. Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho – talented young players whose nerves got the better of them. Nothing more.

However, with the disgusting racism that still poisons English football rearing its ugly head, some fans didn’t think this was a coincidence. These people proceeded to launch a tirade of racist abuse towards the three young men online, littering the pages of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat with racist slurs and emojis.

This is unacceptable. Many of us know this, but sadly many do not. Time after time, people get away with posting abhorrent comments, be them racist, homophobic, xenophobic or otherwise. This needs to stop. Over time society has moved forward and become better at acknowledging and stamping out racism, but there is still a long way to go. Unfortunately, you can’t silence hate speech in one fell swoop.

online hate speech
Marcus Rashford // Courtesy of BBC

This is where social media platforms need to step in. UK advertising leaders have taken the initiative of signing an open letter to Facebook (who also owns Instagram), Twitter and Snapchat calling for changes to be made. If we can’t change the minds of people who spout hate, then the first step is to remove the platforms from which they spout. Between March 2019 and March 2020, only 2% of UK hate crimes were flagged as being committed online, yet online spaces are where we most frequently witness them.

Among the hundreds of leaders who have signed the letter are Christopher Kenna, CEO and founder of the Brand Advance Group; Annette King, U.K. chief executive of Publicis Groupe; Ali Reed, U.K. CEO of PHD; Kerry Chilvers, brands director for Direct Line; Jerry Daykin, EMEA senior media director for GSK Consumer Healthcare; Meg Farren, CMO of KFC UK and Ireland; and Jeff Dodds, chief operating officer for VirginMediaO2.

Calling out the platforms, the letter points out that when it comes to online racism, “it’s not just a question for the social media platforms but those who fund them as well.” The letter goes on to state that, “brands,agencies, trade bodies and civil society organisations who work closely with teams and players have a voice, opportunity and responsibility to not stay silent.”

online hate speech
Photo by Jeremy Zero

Actions are also specified in the letter, stating that these platforms must, “Publish updated hate speech policies, that include the use of emojis, to support your zero tolerance approach.” Such actions will ensure that hate speech that would not be tolerated in person cannot continue to be tolerated in online spaces. There are also other calls for tighter restrictions on anonymity, such as the government petition started by Katie Price to make verified ID a requirement for opening a social media account. This prevention of anonymity will ensure that those who write abusive content online can be held accountable for their actions.

The aforementioned Christopher Kenna has been a champion of inclusivity and diversity in the advertising industry for several years. Kenna tells us, “As soon as we lost the game I knew, like all people of colour, that this was going to turn into something else. This was the perfect opportunity for racists to show their true colours. The absurd number of racial slurs and monkey emojis online made me feel sick. Racism just has to stop and we need to change things for the sake of our kids.

“Advertising as an industry needs to stand shoulder to shoulder with its consumers and these are the people that are being abused. I’m so pleased to see all the signatories of this letter stand up and be counted.

“Social media platforms now need to step up. These companies need to clearly outline their policies on hate speech and enforce real consequences to perpetrators. Online spaces need to be protected and moderated. If you write something about COVID then these platforms can pick it up straight away – the technology is there to call out abusive language.

“This letter doesn’t answer the problem, but it’s a rallying cry to make change. If this stops even one monkey emoji from being posted then that’s a win.”

See the full letter below with a list of signatories.

online hate speech
Gareth Southgate embracing Bukayo Saka // Courtesy of BBC