In April 2019, professional footballers from England and Wales boycotted social media for 24 hours, but Henry is arguably the sport’s most prominent name to implement a longer-term boycott.
His decision follows a recent wave of racist abuse online targeting black soccer players.
Henry, who has 2.3 million Twitter followers, told CNN’s Darren Lewis that while social media has many benefits, some users have deployed their posts in a much more sinister manner.
He added: “I’m not saying it’s not good to have social media, I’m just trying to say it has to be a safe place.”
“Basically I did what I felt and I hope that can inspire people to do the same if they feel the same.”
“Muhammad Ali didn’t want to go to war, he didn’t wait to see if everyone was with him, that’s how he felt,” Henry said.
“Please understand that I am far from this caliber […] but I said to myself: “Thierry, that’s how you feel, you feel a lot.” This is what I will do. To show this, obviously, I’m not happy with the way things are going on social media. “
“Things are a little better in the stadium, but now the problem has moved to social media, where people can hide,” he added.
“You can always say, ‘Oh, it’s hard to track who it is.’ You close that account, they can open another one. So you’re just shifting the problem.
“This problem has been going on for a long time and it is not an attack on anyone. It is about making the place safer.”
While talking about the abuse he and other black public figures have received online, Henry is aware that the problem of online harassment affects everyone.
He says he’s worried about his young daughter’s social media presence and wants platforms to treat online abuse with the same “vigor” as they tackle copyright issues.
“When you see a comment on social media, even if you had a million that were good, you’re going to focus on the bad because that’s the one that’s going to hurt,” he said, noting the toxic effect that these messages can have. about someone’s sanity.
“Sometimes you try to figure it out. What should I do? Who am I? Is what they say, is it true? Is it true? Am I like that? Imagine a child answering these questions which I can hardly sometimes answer. ”
‘I want to see some action’
Last year, Facebook and Instagram announced that they would form a team to tackle racism and other forms of discrimination on their platforms and assess racial bias in their algorithms.
In a statement Friday, a spokesperson for the Facebook company said, “We don’t want discriminatory abuse on Instagram and we remove it when we find it.
“Between October and December of last year, we took action on 6.6 million hate speech content on Instagram, 95% of which we found before anyone reported it to us.
“We recently announced that we will take tougher action when we realize people are breaking our rules in MDs and that we have built tools to help people protect themselves.
“We will continue this work and we will know that these issues are more important than we are, so work with others to collectively drive societal change through action and education.”
When asked what he is doing to prevent racist abuse on his platform, Twitter directed CNN to its recent statement which highlighted some of the measures it had implemented.
“Racist behavior, abuse and harassment have absolutely no place on our service. On Twitter, protecting the health of the public conversation is essential to us, and that means Twitter is a safe place to express yourself and follow the football conversation without fear of abuse or intimidation. ”
Since the death of George Floyd last year, football governing bodies have launched campaigns to raise awareness of racism and, for example, teams take the knee before every English Premier League game.
Despite this, there have been many calls for those in power, both on social media and in football, to do more to prevent and punish racist messages.
Having spent much of his career dealing with these issues, and realizing that this was a problem for generations that came before him, Henry says it’s time to see real change.
“I’m tired of talking, I’m tired of hearing, I want to see action. I want to see how we can eradicate this and how we can get out of it,” he said.
“Talking obviously doesn’t work that much. There’s a lot of awareness, a lot of campaigning, but it’s still going on so now I want to see the people in charge, the big guns, come out and explain.
Earlier on Friday, UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden in a tweeted response to Henry said: “No one should have to turn off social media because of abuse.”
Dowden added, “Social media companies need to do more to tackle this and we’re introducing new laws to hold platforms to account. It’s complex and we need to do it right, but I absolutely am. determined to tackle racist abuse online. “
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