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26 Mar, 2021 12:10

Football icon Thierry Henry blames ‘toxic racism, bullying & mental torture’ as he pledges exit & urges social media giants to act

Football icon Thierry Henry blames ‘toxic racism, bullying & mental torture’ as he pledges exit & urges social media giants to act

World Cup and Champions League winner Thierry Henry has issued one of the strongest-worded statements yet in the row over online abuse, announcing his imminent departure from social media and demanding swift action from platforms.

English Premier League legend Henry has pointed out that social media giants such as Twitter appear quick to act over copyright claims but slower to take action against abuse, including a seemingly endless spate of vile attacks on footballers.

While accounts are routinely sanctioned or closed down for minor breaches of copyright infringements – many of which are unintentional, such as sharing clips from match coverage – the typically-anonymous accounts that are swiftly set up and used to spread prejudice are a ubiquitous feature of social media.

Striker-turned coach Henry has had enough. "From tomorrow morning, I will be removing myself from social media until the people in power are able to regulate their platforms with the same vigour and ferocity that they currently do when you infringe copyright," the former France forward announced on Friday.

"The sheer volume of racism, bullying and resulting mental torture to individuals is too toxic to ignore.

"There has to be some accountability. It is far too easy to create an account, use it to bully and harass without consequence and still remain anonymous.

"Until this changes, I will be disabling my accounts across all social platforms. I'm hoping this happens soon."

The Arsenal hero, who has well over two million followers on Twitter and Instagram, is thought to be the first high-profile player to have issued an ultimatum to social media bosses while leaving their platforms.

Incidents of online aggression have come under particular scrutiny because of the decision by almost all players in top leagues around the world to take a pre-match knee in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign this season.

That has led to a heightened awareness of racial issues, accompanied by an apparent increase in abuse in an era when social media is increasingly powerful.

Paul Pogba, one of Henry's successors as a France superstar, has more than 47 million followers on Instagram, while current Gunners strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette have a combined following of more than 13 million.

Speaking at a football psychotherapy conference last year, well-known UK sports psychotherapist Gary Bloom said that some players stayed on social media because they wanted larger followings in order to secure potentially lucrative endorsements.

"The big sportswear manufacturers will often set a certain number of followers on social media before they give players certain deals, so a lot of players are chasing those margins," he explained.

"At the same time those social keyboard warriors turn up and complain, so what do you want to do? It's craving something that is poisoning you."

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