FC Barcelona's Argentine legend Lionel Messi has backed the social media boycott by British football and called on the big social networks to take urgent action against online abusers.
Football star Messi is the world's seventh most followed person on Instagram, and on Saturday night he urged his 200 million followers to demand that social media companies take action.
"I believe the moment has arrived for us to realize that there is a flesh and blood person behind every profile, someone who laughs, cries, enjoys, suffers, human beings with feelings," Messi wrote in an Instagram post. "Nobody deserves to be ill-treated or insulted. We see and experience increasingly worse abuse on social media and nobody is doing anything to prevent it."
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"We should condemn this hostility in the strongest possible terms and demand that the social media networks take urgent measures against this behavior," he continued.
The football player urged his followers to participate in the campaign, saying that he "would like the 200 million people that accompany me online to become 200 million reasons to make social media a safe place of respect where we can share what we want to without fear of being insulted, or have to face racism, abuse and discrimination."
Football clubs and players from the Premier League and Football League, as well as FIFA, UEFA, and some broadcasters joined together this weekend in a Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter boycott to place pressure on social media platforms to do more to confront the growing tide of bullying.
According to a Daily Mail report, a Premier League club last week notified Facebook, through a company that helps them track their social media accounts for violence, that one of their players had been abused and was sent a series of monkey emojis.
Facebook's community rules were reportedly not violated, the club management was told. Facebook removed the emojis only after they asked the Premier League to report it again on their behalf, and the offending account has been deactivated.
Following public pressure, Facebook reportedly will add a tool that filters any direct message requests on Instagram that include offensive words, phrases, or emojis, based on discussions with affected players. They also want to make it more difficult for someone who has been blocked by a player to reach them with a new account, according to the report.
"No one should have to experience abuse anywhere, and it's against our policies to harass or discriminate against people on Instagram or Facebook. We have already made progress on many of the players' suggestions, including taking tougher action against people breaking our rules in DMs [direct messages]," Facebook's spokesperson is quoted in the report as saying. "We'll continue listening to feedback and keep fighting hate and racism on our platform."