What are they waiting for, a high-profile footballer to kill themselves? Anton Ferdinand challenges social media companies over online abuse

Anton Ferdinand says social media companies must do more to tackle online racist abuse (House of Commons/PA). (PA Wire)
12:28pm, Wed 08 Sep 2021
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Anton Ferdinand has described the mental health concerns of those facing racial abuse on social media and warned it may take a tragedy for the companies involved to act.

The former West Ham and England defender was one of a number of high-profile former players speaking at the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into online abuse.

Ferdinand said: “It is built to make you addicted to it, you can’t put it down once you start scrolling.

“There is a mental health issue of not being able to escape it. My worry is, what are the social media companies waiting for?

“Are they waiting for a high-profile footballer to kill themselves, or a member of their family to commit suicide? Is that what they’re waiting for? Because if they’re waiting for that it’s too late.

“This comes down to if (the social media companies) really want to make change? So far, their words are that they want to but their actions are different.”

Ferdinand suggested similar technology behind predictive text should be used to identify the context of the words being used in a tweet, and if those words were deemed inappropriate the tweet would not be able to be sent.

Ferdinand also talked about the need for an account holder’s identity to be known, at least to the platforms themselves.

“The rebuttal (from social media companies) to that is always that not everyone’s got ID across the world,” he said.

“OK, well you’ve got a duty of care to the people that are using your platform.”

Ferdinand suggested there was another motive behind the platforms’ inaction.

“They don’t want to implement (technology to limit abuse), because if I retweet a racist tweet that has been put my way, the frenzy around it is monetary to them,” he added.

He also felt there was a lack of understanding within the platforms’ leadership teams.

“How many people at management level in these companies have an experience of being racially abused?” he asked.

“All I hear is, ‘We will never understand’. You’re a multi-billion dollar company – either have somebody who understands it or people within a senior management level (with) the understanding that can influence what’s going on in the company.”

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