Aaron Cresswell believes social media companies must take more responsibility to reduce the racist and discriminatory abuse received online by players, fans and many others connected to football and beyond.
The West Ham United left-back, his teammates, his Club and the football family are staging a social media boycott this weekend to demand change to the unacceptable current situation.
Speaking to whufc.com ahead of the boycott, which began at 3pm on Friday 30 April and will run until 11.59pm on Monday 3 May, Cresswell was clear in his thoughts about what needs to happen.
To be in 2021 and see some of the stuff the lads have to put up with, I can’t imagine what they must go through. Change has to start from the top
“The way the game is now, with everything running through social media, it’s a massive platform for people to voice their opinions, whether they are good, bad or whatever, and I’ve seen some of the horrific stuff posted where lads have been racially abused or just generally abused, just because they can do it,” said the No3, who is a Players' Project ambassador for equality.
“We’re in 2021 now and I can’t understand how these companies, these big organisations, haven’t been able to change it or even seem to be taking a stance or doing something to try and change it. And I mean properly doing it and not just saying ‘we’re looking into doing this’.
“I just can’t understand how you can’t have an ID situation where you only get access to your socials if you are verified. I don’t know how to run a social media company but, for me, I can’t see someone racially abusing someone or abusing someone with their name, their date of birth or their address behind that account. I think that would stop everything and that’s the only way, in my opinion, to move forward.”
While Cresswell is backing the social media boycott and it raising awareness of an issue that is a blight on not just football, but society, he says direct action is the only way things will improve.
“We’ll have three days without social media in football, but there will be other things happening on those platforms,” he continued. “This is not just about football. Of course, everyone loves the social media side of the game and, in my opinion, you’d like to think it would make a small positive change, which is good, but if you’re tackling the problem it should be down to the social media companies. It shouldn’t be down to just the Club or the Premier League. They’re doing their bit, but they’re not in control of social media platforms, so I think the problem lies with those companies.”
At the age of 31, Cresswell himself uses his social media accounts sparingly. He has tweeted just three times this year, while his Instagram account is private and can only be viewed by those he specifically allows to do so.
But the England international is still acutely aware of the challenges faced by younger players who use social media far more often, attracting more attention – and abuse – as their profiles grow.
“With social media people can voice their opinions and after receiving praise all the way through the youth system, you can play one first-team game and you get someone on social media who probably hasn’t even watched the game absolutely hammering you,” he said.
“That is where the situation is at now and the problem is down to the social media companies.”
Cresswell endorsed the launch of an online reporting tool in June last year as part of the Premier League’s No Room For Racism campaign.
The dedicated tool is available to all players, managers, coaches and their family members who receive discriminatory online abuse, with each case reviewed and reported to the relevant social media company, investigated and legal action taken where appropriate.
“That’s a great approach,” he confirmed. “The Premier League is obviously trying to do as much as it can but, as I keep saying, they’re not in control of how people is Twitter or Instagram and what people can say. It’s down to the people who set the rules and I think, if you add identification and verification, it stops it.
“To be in 2021 and see some of the stuff the lads have to put up with, I can’t imagine what they must go through. Change has to start from the top.”
While society’s issue with online discriminatory abuse still needs to be solved, Cresswell praised the inclusive environment at West Ham United, in the dressing room, in the Club’s community work and elsewhere.
“We have different cultures and different religions and we’re all one team, together,” he confirmed. “We have a couple of lads doing Ramadan at the moment and we all respect their beliefs and what they’re doing.
“We’ve done a lot down the years with the Players’ Project and football is a massive part of pretty much everyone’s lives and it creates a positive atmosphere and a feelgood factor and does a lot of good. If every club helped out in its community as much as West Ham does, as a lot do, I think it would make a massive difference.”