England rugby coach Eddie Jones summed it up beautifully. The lowlifes posting abuse on social are the modern lavatory wall graffiti artists.  Now they’ve got the internet.

Marcus Rashford isn’t the only black footballer getting abuse. The haters will pick on anyone for any reason. Especially if they’re in the public eye. Is Gareth Thomas the only gay rugby player?  Why has no footballer come out as openly gay. Can’t imagine why not.

Football’s governing bodies have written a joint letter to Twitter boss Jack Dorsey and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg setting out the steps they want enforced on the platforms.  “The reality is your platforms remain havens for abuse.”  No kidding, not news.

Paul Lambert – then Captain of Celtic Football Club – wanted my advice. Should he front a campaign against religious bigotry that has stained both sides of The Old Firm for over a century. Rangers being the other half. As captain of the club he understood the importance of his role. Would it be wise, could he make a change.

I was a Director of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, previously a Regional Editor of The Sun.  Great for the newspapers, would have started a raging fire of controversy, TV campaign, quotes from The Pope. He wouldn’t be asked about the game in post-match press conferences. Only about the inevitable death threats to him and his family.

My advice – as his friend – was to give it the biggest body-swerve imaginable. Lead by example by all means, maintain the dignity of his position. But why get engulfed.  Comedian Billy Connolly, huge Celtic fan, loves the club, hardly a shrinking violet. He made a career out of bringing down religious bigotry, intolerance, hatred. But he would never go to an Old Firm match because of the sheer unadulterated hatred.

In the innocent days of newspapers (remember them?) the Letters Editor filed all the loonies in the waste bin. The serious stalkers would appear at reception, be listened to intently – then sent round to a rival newspaper with the name and number of a disliked reporter.

Why haven’t governments acted?  The Freedom of Speech argument is pure cant. There is no excuse for vile abuse. Along with the other excuse that Facebook and Twitter aren’t publishers.  They are failing utterly in their duty to protect the victims.  Their users.

It’s also clear that Russia, China, Iran and others have used the social channels to spread fake news, influence elections, attempt to disrupt democracy.  It really is time now for governments worldwide to act against out-of-control monopolies that are spreading evil, destroying democratic media, hoovering up millions in ad revenues – including ads placed and paid for against fake stories that do untold damage.  Talk about win when you’re lying.

Facebook protests that it is “horrified” at the continued abuse, will employ tougher measures to tackle the issue. Twitter – the worst offender – pleads: “Racist behaviour has no place on our service and when we identify accounts that violate any of the Twitter Rules, we take enforcement action.”  Clearly not well enough.

Prince William, as President of the Football Association, has vowed war on racist thugs who abuse footy players and has called an emergency meeting with figureheads and campaigners to devise plans on how a “multi agency partnership” can work together to stamp out sickening racism in football.”  God Bless him.

The tragedy is that all of this suffocates the tremendous opportunity to make something positive happen – like Marcus’s meals for schoolkids. Or bringing down predator fund managers who profit from manipulating markets. Shining a light on good and evil.

Banning a mad President is one thing. Right now, we are left with the inevitable conclusion that the social networks are a negative force that need to be seriously curbed.  Just ask Marcus.

Steve Sampson, Journalist, is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, and a Director of Trinity Mirror publications. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. Based in Scotland, he is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser.

About Steve Sampson

Steve Sampson has held senior positions in media principally with Mirror Group and Murdoch newspapers. He also founded First Press Publishing which was acquired by Trinity Mirror in 2000 where he served as a Director on various TM companies. He heads up a portfolio of digital assets in online and mobile with connections in the UK and US which include a global launch this year. He was one of two founder Vice Chairmen of Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie's cancer charity at the inception but now takes no active part.
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