Attention Exchange

In the week that a man who streamed himself racially abusing England footballers is jailed, Thierry Henry is bang on target in his criticism of social

During the heady days of summer, the England football team managed to do something none of their predecessors had achieved since 1966, they reached the final of an international tournament, only losing to Italy on penalties. The group of players, from a range of ethnic backgrounds, were rightly applauded and celebrated throughout the tournament, but as the dust settled, a few found themselves the target of disgusting, online, racist abuse.

On Tuesday, one of the abusers, Johnathan Best, was rightly jailed for ten weeks for his online rant against three players: Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka. It will be interesting but extremely doubtful if he returns from prison reformed, what is almost certain is he will be cheering if England are again to beat Germany with Saka in a starting role.

Of course, what is guaranteed is that the platform on which he shared his vile views, will move on scot free, and continue to allow hate speech to flourish.

It was therefore a timely coincidence that Premier League and French footballing legend Thierry Henry, chose this week to speak of his continued boycott of social media, in response to their failure to tackle abuse. Hitting the target perfectly with his customary Gaelic flare, Henry pointed to the central truth of social media giants, “… they generate money through hate, it is very difficult when your medicine is your poison”. Put less eloquently, hate drives more clicks and more advertising revenue. Or, as Henry added, “Being genuine and being nice doesn’t generate money”. Too true!

Returning to English football, I experienced a perfect example of this immediately prior to the Euros. Following a rather pleasant mountain biking trip, I discussed the upcoming tournament, and was surprised by the response of one of my fellow riders, “I don’t watch England, I dislike all the nationalistic, jingoistic hate associated with it”.

I could see his point but argued that the times are a changing, pointing to our diverse squad of intelligent, socially aware players, and our fabulous and genuine manager Gareth Southgate. To support this I shared this excellent letter from Gareth, only to find that no one had seen it. Indeed, writing this now, I wonder how many of you have?

Why have so few people read an incredibly important, impassioned letter from the England manager to the country? Is it because it’s articulate and thoughtful, and offers hope for a better, more tolerant future? I’m convinced that had Gareth chosen to write “I hate Germans because of the war, and hope we thrash them”, rather than “I am confident that young kids today will grow up baffled by old [racist and jingoistic] attitudes and ways of thinking”, his letter would have been discussed ad nauseum online, and would have made the front page of every national newspaper.

In a world funded by traditional digital marketing, clicks are currency, and hate is the bait. It is not in the interests of the platforms to moderate, and as one perpetrator is jailed, a thousand others continue to espouse their foul views from the comfort of their own homes.

Facebook and Twitter claim they are putting in place measure to stop abuse but how effective are they. How effective do they want them to be? As reported in Unherd, in the wake of the Italy defeat, Twitter reported deleting 1,622 racist tweets, but this will not have been all tweets of this type. As Sunder Katwala of British Future notes, “No blacks in the English team – keep our team”, and “Marcus Rashford isn’t English – blacks can’t be English” are not considered “in violation” of Twitter rules. 

So hate continues to thrive and will continue to thrive while ever the current status quo persists, and if whistleblower Frances Haugen’s claims that Facebook “spoon feeds” hateful content to keep users on the platform are true, the situation is not going to change quickly  What is most striking is that as British social attitudes have changed and become more tolerant, people’s daily experience of racism and hate has increased. This is a deeply troubling trend.

So, what is the solution? 

Social platforms and online newspapers are funded by marketing spend, and as we know hate fuels clicks, and clicks drive revenue. Only when this paradigm is broken will we see any significant change. Here at Zedosh, alongside a few other pioneering organisations, we are hoping to break the mould….

We’re proving that hyper-targeted, non-social and consent-driven platforms that fairly reward relevant consumers for their dedicated attention actually work. By bringing transparency and fairness to advertising, Zedosh delivers much greater engagement from real consumers with advertising content without the need to fund any form of hate for bait.