Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley captains, Sheffield United manager unite in boycott of social media

Leading figures in Yorkshire’s football family have called for greater punishment for perpetrators of online abuse as clubs, players and stakeholders began a boycott of social media yesterday afternoon.

Everyone from managers to players, clubs to associations, fans to members even of the Royal Family fell silent at 3pm yesterday as the sporting world united to send a message that online abuse will not be tolerated.

The boycott will last until 11.59pm on Monday.

A great swathe of support washed over social media in the hours before 3pm yesterday as significant members of the sporting world pledged their backing.

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Barnsley's Alex Mowatt has backed the boycott of social media (Picture: PA)Barnsley's Alex Mowatt has backed the boycott of social media (Picture: PA)
Barnsley's Alex Mowatt has backed the boycott of social media (Picture: PA)

Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge, tweeted: “As President of the FA (Football Association) I join the entire football community in the social media boycott this weekend. W.”

At a more local level, managers and players spoke of their pride in the common goal, their hopes for what the stand might do, and their own experiences of the hurt caused by online abuse that goes unregulated and unpunished by social media companies.

Paul Heckingbottom Sheffield United’s interim manager, said: “Delighted that football has led the way again, which I think we can be proud of.

“I’m even more pleased that a lot of companies, businesses, organisations and significant others have joined the cause as well.

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Barry Bannan, Sheffield Wednesday captain (Picture: Steve Ellis)Barry Bannan, Sheffield Wednesday captain (Picture: Steve Ellis)
Barry Bannan, Sheffield Wednesday captain (Picture: Steve Ellis)

“That’s the only way we’ll make a difference. It cannot be right that the things people say, do or infer...if it was in a normal walk of life they’d be prosecuted or locked up.

“To provide a platform to do it, with no repercussions? I cannot understand that.

“So I’m delighted as many people as possible are joining the cause over the next few days and hopefully this is the start of a change.”

Alex Mowatt, the Barnsley captain, added his backing and also revealed some of the vile abuse he received earlier in his career.

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Paul Heckingbottom temporary manager of Sheffield United, left (Picture: Andrew Yates / Sportimage)Paul Heckingbottom temporary manager of Sheffield United, left (Picture: Andrew Yates / Sportimage)
Paul Heckingbottom temporary manager of Sheffield United, left (Picture: Andrew Yates / Sportimage)

“It is important that everyone sticks together on this,” said Mowatt. “It has been going on for so long now it is ridiculous.

“It is important to stand together as collective voices make a difference, really.

“When I was at Leeds, some of the abuse you people wishing cancer on family members.

“It should not happen in the game, it is a game of football and everyone loves football. But with the trolls online, it just needs to stop now.

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“It needs greater punishment to the people doing these things.”

That lack of regulation has already forced some players off of social media.

Mowatt continued: “When I was younger, I used to care about social media.

“I used to search for my name and see how I played. I’d be thinking I had a good game and fans would be telling me I have had a bad game.

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“You know in your head how you played and don’t need people telling you on Twitter that you have played well or bad. You know yourself.

“So I never search for my name (anymore) or really look at comments and things. It does not affect me the way it did when I was younger.”

Another prominent figure in Yorkshire football, Barry Bannan, suffered similar abuse that prompted him to walk away from social media.

“I had to come off as there were a lot of negative comments and if we reply to it, we are the bad ones,” said the Sheffield Wednesday captain.

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“What fans have got to realise is there are a lot of players out there who do look at social media and it plays a part in their performances at the weekend.

“Not everyone is as strong as people think they are and negative comments, if you are a fan of this football club, can play a part in the result at a weekend as that is the way it is nowadays. It can play a part in players’ confidence.

“Hopefully everybody getting together and doing this can help. Whatever it does, I cannot really see it as with the racist side of it, we have been ‘taking the knee’ and it seems to be getting worse. To be honest, it is going to take more than this to help.”

Heckingbottom concluded by urging the social media companies to sit up and take note of this weekend’s boycott.

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“We have to make sure we create some boundaries where if people are behaving unacceptably in real life, it should be deemed unacceptable online as well,” he said.

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