Health and football officials unite to tackle social media abuse plague

Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, is pleased with the honest reflection from the

Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said more needs to be done to combat social media abuse - Credit: Gregg Brown

More needs to be done to protect people from racist and hateful abuse online, health and football officials have said.

The call to action comes as the English footballing world prepares to boycott social media over the bank holiday weekend in retaliation to a rise in abusive messages sent to players.

Archant is taking a stand with footballers this weekend for a social media boycott against online abuse

Archant is taking a stand with footballers this weekend for a social media boycott against online abuse - Credit: Steve Waller/Getty Images

The East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star sports team are also taking part in the boycott, while further concerns have been raised over the wider issue of social media abuse across communities and different age groups.

A 2019 survey by Healthwatch Suffolk found 36% of young people were cautious over the use of social media – with 7% of those surveyed having an exclusively negative experience using social media apps.

One victim, a girl aged 17, said negative comments led her to self-harming and thoughts of taking her own life, while a boy aged 15 said hateful comments had caused him to feel depressed.

Ipswich Town manager Paul Cook has backed the boycott, while Suffolk FA said it is working together with other FAs to demand change.

A statement by Suffolk FA called on social media companies to do more to combat the issue, adding perpetrators must be held accountable.

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Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said the solution lies with listening and understanding the issues faced by young people.

Mr Yacoub said: "What you encounter throughout your life can have an extended impact. And online experiences are no different, especially when you are young.

"We know that around 12% of children and young people who responded to ‘My Health, Our Future’ (our report on mental health and emotional wellbeing) have been bullied online.

"Certain ethnic groups are also more likely to be bullied, with around a quarter of Romanian and Black-Caribbean students experiencing this.

"But it’s worth noting that online abuse can also be a hidden problem, either due to the fact someone may feel hesitant in sharing what is happening, or because it is through platforms which offer temporary or ‘disappearing’ content.

"It’s vital to listen to what children and young people are experiencing, what action they feel would help to protect their wellbeing, and offer support required to all in need – the solutions lie with young people."

Police said the comments have been referred to the professional standards department Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Young people are also calling for change to combat the issue of social media abuse - Credit: Getty Images

Izzy Morath, Suffolk's Youthwatch project officer, added: “The presence of online abuse on social media is something that all of us are aware of, and it needs to be tackled more effectively.

"Bullying is an issue that so many people endure both locally and nationally, and we are committed to further investigation of this as a topic when Youthwatch Suffolk, our group focused on the experiences of young people, takes shape.

“The best way to understand how to stand by victims of bullying, support those whose wellbeing has been impacted by this, and stand up against hate, is to hear people’s real lived experiences. We therefore welcome anyone who has sadly experienced online abuse to share their views with us and help to shape a wider conversation on tackling this important issue.”

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