FA presses government to tighten bill tackling online abuse

The Football Association is lobbying MPs to tighten provisions in the government’s online safety bill as social media companies continue to ignore calls to act on online abuse.

Leaders from across the game met MPs on Tuesday to ask for support in making changes to the draft bill published this month. The players Thierry Henry and Lucy Bronze also gave personal testimonies of their experiences of abuse.

Some critics of the bill have warned it could prove a licence for online censorship, but Edleen John, the FA’s equality, diversity and inclusion director, believes the bill is the best hope of enforcing change necessary to stop the “industrial scale” abuse experienced by players and officials.

A central demand is on the issue of “legal but harmful” content. “There are many elements of things that we see on social media platforms at the moment which are already illegal,” John said, “but there are things that are legal and absolutely harmful.”

Legal material which relates to child abuse or terrorism has been given priority in the bill, but John says the same should apply to discriminatory language. She uses the example of the monkey emoji, which can be used both innocently and as a racist provocation. “In the current draft of the bill we have before us [legal but harmful content] isn’t captured at the level it needs to be,” she said.

Another subject of concern for football stakeholders is the amount of personal information a user should have to share to post on a platform. “The issue has been presented historically by social media organisations as a real dichotomy where you either have all of your information provided or none at all,” John said. “What we’re saying is there must be an element of grey in the middle.”

John says the FA and other footballing bodies continue to talk with social media companies about reforms, but that the recent four-day boycott has not materially changed the situation.

“We were very clear about the boycott and did not expect it to be a silver bullet,” she said. “While there has been some progress [it is] not to the level that we would want. The fact that I can go on to a platform, abuse someone, delete my profile and then re-register another one within moments means that, for me, there’s still a problem in the system.”