Probably pointless acts of protest
The concept of “free speech” has lost all meaning in today’s political and cultural landscape.
Although this phenomenon is hugely influenced by American thinking and, as often, by a misunderstanding of the U.S. Constitution First Amendment, it is, by no means, entirely found in the United States.
No, people around the world constantly demand that they be allowed the platform to say whatever it is that they want, whenever they want. And, outside of totalitarian societies, they generally have been able to do so.
The reason for that is that the Big Three Social Media platforms – Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – have largely favoured a libertarian approach to policing speech in those spaces.
In theory, this is great. In some cases, it’s been great in practice too – back a decade or so ago The Arab Spring allowed people to organize and bypass otherwise oppressive situations. On a smaller scale, groups that may feel shut down in their local communities – whether left-leaning or right – have found the opportunity to spread their word on Social Media.
Of late that libertarian approach has come into question, however. The question of how to deal with abusive comments – particularly those of a racist or overtly sexist nature – is the single biggest challenge that the Social Media companies must deal with as we move into the Century’s third decade.
A direct challenge to their approach was felt this past weekend in the United Kingdom, and around the world wherever the Premier League is popular (which is pretty much everywhere). Lead by the Premier League players, a boycott of Social Media took place over the British Bank Holiday weekend. No content was posted by the clubs or players for nearly four days.
Several media outlets and other sports teams and players supported the boycott by following suit.
There were four demands made by the players and clubs to the Social Media companies. They wanted improved prevention to help stop online abuse in the first place, account verification to deter people from writing hateful comments while anonymous, and proper punishments, as it is felt that the current punishments for online abuse are insufficient.
Additionally, they are looking for government intervention in the UK, specifically.
The effort gained widespread attention in media and by fans and has led to a meeting between the Social Media giants and the English stakeholders.
The question is, did it do more than force the Social Media companies to release a tepid and toothless statement about not tolerating abuse? That’s a far more difficult question to answer.
Pretty much everyone agrees that the only language Social Media companies will listen to is monetary. Did the boycott cost them money? If it did and they believe the stakeholders will do it again then it’s possible their will be meaningful change here.
It was difficult to see any meaningful impact on the market. Both Facebook and Twiiter had earnings calls last week so it’s impossible to separate that movement from anything associated with the boycott (Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) is down from a high last week of $65.09 USD to $54.19 at the time of writing and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) was up sharply on Friday after the earnings call — $307.10 to $330.33. It’s since corrected to $315.97 at time of writing).
The problem is that Social Media companies profit from abuse. They likely won’t like it said so bluntly, but it’s true. Controversy creates engagement and the type of racial abuse they are talking about is, among many things, controversial.
Ultimately, this is where last weekend’s action seems mostly pointless. Unless, the players and clubs are willing to make the boycott last longer than a single weekend al that it will likely accomplish is pacifying platitudes.
Progress will require sustained effort and it’s unclear whether the football world has it in then to do that.