BT’s campaign to tackle online hate has led to action being taken against “hundreds” of social media users as its messaging reaches millions.
Mat Sears, the corporate affairs director for BT's consumer division, which includes BT Sport, has urged social media companies to scale their efforts to tackle online abuse, while urging other brands to continue to press platforms to keep the topic at the top of their agenda.
This year BT has invested millions in a campaign to raise awareness of online hate. This has been brought to life in two major iterations: 'Draw the Line', which was launched in late April and highlights the abuse received by BT Sport's own on-camera staff; and 'Hope United', launched in May and fronted by a mixed team of 20 footballers, who will speak about and help combat online hate in the lead-up to the Uefa European Championships (see videos below).
Sears told PRWeek that as a part of 'Draw the Line', BT put in place a team to play a more active role in monitoring social media platforms, including Twitter and Instagram, where footballers such as Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling have been subject to vile, racist abuse.
“This team’s role is to help identify and educate people who are pushing online abuse,” Sears told PRWeek. “That team saw hundreds of reports that were then acted upon. In fact, in a number of cases they would message the abuser, and say: ‘What are you doing? Online abuse is not tolerated.’ A number of times, the abuser would apologise and those interventions were quite powerful. On other occasions that would end up with their account being blocked.”
“'Hope United' has just launched, but we've seen a hugely positive response from partners and from people around the industry repeating and amplifying our message. There is a kind of industry-wide coalition of players, coaches and brands involved really driving a large amount of awareness on this topic. We're hoping it will have a significant effect and the amount of abuse that we see will drop.”
The campaigns have been timed to coincide with two of football's flagship events, the Champions League final, which was won by Chelsea last month, and the postponed Euro 2020, which kicks off this Friday.
The anti-hate messaging issue could not be more pertinent.
In the past week, England’s friendly matches, played in Middlesbrough, have been marred by small sections of the crowd booing players taking the knee in support of racial equality.
This has hardened the resolve of players to continue the action and compelled the England manager, Gareth Southgate, to write a heartfelt open letter urging fans to unite and display tolerance and understanding when players protest against racism.
Sears believes the wide support of players, coaches and the football community is making a difference.
“Where I would say there has been a turning point is in brands [being] willing to engage in the topic in a way they've never done before,” he added. “It's too early to say that we've reached a turning point in abuse on social media; we will reserve that judgement until after the Euros.”
BT's 'Draw the Line' camapign is helping educate and police users about online abuse
An ongoing campaign
Following the Euros, BT plans to regroup, analyse the success of 'Draw the Line' and 'Hope United', and reiterate the campaign messaging in new and creative ways.
In the meantime, Sears hopes companies will continue to support the anti-hate movement, both externally and internally.
“We have 100,000 people who work at BT and it doesn’t matter how large or small you are, there's a lot of work you can do with your own people. We want to make sure the topic of abuse and racism is front and centre of internal communication discussions for every business.”
Another area in which brands can make an impact is by lobbying the social media platforms where online abuse thrives.
Sears said BT has had difficult conversations with Facebook and Twitter about what they are doing to tackle the problem. The telco and broadcaster had considered pulling its spend with both platforms, but decided it would rather use that media spend on an awareness and education campaign.
Sears said BT executives were satisfied by the steps Facebook and Twitter have been taking to combat online hate (see below), but there are areas where he would like to see further improvements.
Chief among these is how platforms police online abuse.
“These platforms are so big, but are their teams policing them big enough? They need to ensure that they can properly police these platforms. None of their policies support abuse on social media, but the enforcement needs to be more visible.
“One of the things we have asked for is that we need to see more local evidence, such as UK reporting on the specific topics of abuse and racism. We want to see what they're doing to tackle and enforce their policies on the issue.”
A mixed squad of football stars are fronting 'Hope United'
What are platforms doing?
PRWeek asked Facebook and Twitter to provide further details on what they are doing to combat online hate.
A Facebook spokesperson said: "No one should have to experience racist abuse anywhere, and we don’t want it on Facebook or Instagram. We take action on content and accounts that break our rules, and between January and March we removed over 33 million pieces of hate speech content, over 93 per cent before anyone reported it.
“We have also built safety features, including Comment Filters and Message Controls, which help prevent anyone seeing abusive comments or messages in the first place. No single thing will fix this challenge overnight, but we’re committed to doing what we can to keep our community safe from abuse.”
PRWeek understands Facebook is introducing messaging and comment controls that filter offensive words, phrases and emojis, to prevent users from seeing abusive messages on Instagram and Facebook. New controls on Facebook will allow users to control who can comment on their organic public posts.
A new feature on Instagram that will be rolled out in a few weeks will allow users who block accounts to preemptively block any new accounts the blocked person may create.
A Twitter spokesperson told PRWeek: “Racist behaviour, abuse and harassment have absolutely no place on our service and, alongside our partners in football, we condemn racism in all its forms. We are resolute in our commitment to ensure the football conversation on our service is safe for fans, players and everyone involved in the game.
“Since the season started on 12 September, there have been over 30m Tweets from people in the UK about football. In that time we have removed over 7,000 Tweets in the UK that were targeting the football conversation with violations of the Twitter Rules. This represents roughly 0.02 per cent of the overall football conversation in the UK and does not reflect the vast majority of people who engage in vibrant discussions about football on Twitter.”
The 'Hope United' TV ad
Twitter has also introduced new settings that enable users to control who can comment on their threads. It is also experimenting with prompting users to consider whether they want to post potentially abusive tweets or comments.
The platform said it is working with the football community, police and anti-racism campaigns to better educate and raise awareness about online abuse.
“We have worked to improve our proactive measures, where now 90 per cent of the abuse targeting players is removed without the need for a user report,” the spokesperson added. “We’ve also provided expedited reporting channels to our football partners to ensure any potentially violative content is reviewed and actioned swiftly.”