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MARTIN SAMUEL: If porn sites can clean up their act in days, why not social media?

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All that is being asked is that football’s relationship with social media aspires to the same standards we now expect from hardcore pornographers.

While the Government plans to tackle online harms later this year, and football’s authorities plead with Facebook and Twitter to get round the table, in the world of lesbian teens and cougar grandmas, stuff gets done.

On December 4 last year, the New York Times published an opinion column by journalist Nicholas Kristof. Beside a photograph of a teenage girl, the headline read: ‘The children of Pornhub: Why does Canada allow this company to profit off videos of exploitation and assault?’

The New York Times published a column headlined 'The children of Pornhub' last December

The New York Times published a column headlined ‘The children of Pornhub’ last December

Kristof’s allegations were troubling. Pornhub sells as the acceptable face of pornography with a billboard on Times Square, donations to charitable causes and more visitors a month than Netflix, Amazon or Yahoo.

Kristof pricked that bubble of faux innocence. He wrote searching ’14yo’ on its site produced more than 100,000 results.

Not all were of sexual assault but enough were. Rape was also a common theme. And not all of the footage was staged. 

Kristof spoke to victims, documented specific cases and concluded by calling on Pornhub to only allow verified users to post videos, to ban downloads — because, once downloaded, even a video of non-consensual sex that has been removed lives on — and increase moderation.

That was Friday. By the following Tuesday, Pornhub had complied — with all of it. ‘Effective immediately,’ the company announced. As well as new verified upload and download protocols, a taskforce called the Red Team would search the platform for illegal material.

All videos posted by unverified users were immediately removed and ‘fingerprinting technology’ was introduced to prevent unverifiable content being reposted.

And that’s how swiftly it can be done, if the will exists. Five days, including a weekend. Five days between Pornhub being challenged on standards and the company making the necessary changes to maintain reputation. And it does have a reputation.

In 2017, Pornhub sponsored snow ploughs to clear the streets in Boston. It has donated to breast cancer charities, environmental and equal opportunity campaign groups. And, of course, the speed of the changes will also have been motivated by Mastercard and Visa threatening to withdraw payment facilitation services. But it’s a start.

And, no, the leaders of English football do not have the way with words of a double Pulitzer Prize winner like Kristof.

Even so, the letter sent to Jack Dorsey, chief executive officer of Twitter, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg should resonate. It mentions ‘basic human decency’, calls the platforms ‘havens for abuse’. There is also a Kristof-style accusation.

‘Your inaction has created the belief in the minds of the anonymous perpetrators that they are beyond reach,’ the letter reads. 

The leaders of English football sent a letter to Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) about levels of abuse on their platforms

The leaders of English football sent a letter to Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) about levels of abuse on their platforms 

‘The relentless flow of racist and discriminatory messages feeds on itself: the more it is tolerated by Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, platforms with billions of users, the more it becomes normal, accepted behaviour.’

The same could be said of abuse generally. Abuse opens the door, racist abuse saunters through unchallenged as part of the crowd. One invites the other.

Yet few care for that link. It was still the positioning of the word ‘black’ between f***ing and c*** that got Chelsea supporter Colin Wing a life ban, having aimed those words at Raheem Sterling.

Had he, a 60-year-old man, just screamed that Sterling was a ‘f***ing c***’, his behaviour would have been unremarkable.

Certainly, there would have been no exclusion. None of those around him, who hurled obscenities without the racial identifier, were given a permanent ban. So we have a strange attitude to abuse.

Reginald Maudling, the former Home Secretary, spoke in 1971 of reducing the IRA to an ‘acceptable level’ of violence. We now have notions of an acceptable level of abuse. It is hardly surprising, then, that social media companies think the same way.

The key request in the letter was an end to online anonymity. ‘All users should be subject to an improved verification process that (only if required by law enforcement) allows for accurate identification of the person behind the account.’ It seems very straightforward and achievable.

Why should online racists, or the type of people who issue death threats to referees and managers, be able to hide in the shadows?

Why can’t the poster abusing Manchester United player Lauren James on Instagram, for example, not be reported by the platform and then traced by police?

Football leaders have condemned big tech firms for their inactivity over online abuse

Football leaders have condemned big tech firms for their inactivity over online abuse

Manchester United and England player Lauren James has been racially abused on Instagram

Manchester United and England player Lauren James has been racially abused on Instagram

First, there are logistical issues that must be addressed. One verification proposal is for National Insurance numbers to be used. Yet there are more NI numbers than people in the United Kingdom. NI numbers are frequently fake.

Means of identification is a mere teething problem, however, compared to the minefield beyond because, from here, it gets complicated. What seemed very straightforward in the field of pornography is not in our globalised world.

Take free speech. In this country, and others, we guard it so sincerely that we debate the rights of individuals to say some pretty obnoxious, unhelpful things. To undermine vaccination rollouts with unsubstantiated conspiracy theories and bogus scientific claims. To promote lies. To abuse. To post media that actively promotes violence. 

Put it like this: if a person tweeted that ISIS had the right idea throwing homosexuals off tall buildings, there would be those who would defend the right to say this, providing the message wasn’t directly acted upon.

Then there are those countries where to argue strongly against throwing homosexuals off tall buildings invites the attention of the authorities; marks a person out as a radical, perhaps an enemy of the state. Countries where defending human rights, gay rights, women’s rights, is wrong.

Yet a global business has a global policy. And if a verification process is required, it will have to be implemented worldwide.

Now return to football’s letter. ‘An improved verification process that (only if required by law enforcement) allows for accurate identification of the person behind the account.’

So what if the law enforcement agency is the police and the government in a country less enlightened than our own; a state in which homosexuality is illegal, or criticism of the ruling regime is forbidden? What happens when those law enforcers request the ID of a poster whose output does not meet government approval?

Twitter, or Facebook, can always say no. Yet what if the perceived promotion of homosexuality is an offence in that country? The poster is breaking the law.

Do Dorsey or Zuckerberg then get to decide with which laws they agree? Their power would be immense. The letter, as well intended and necessary as it is, sees it all as an English problem. Yet social media is global.

Social media's problems, include those of Twitter (pictured, CEO Dorsey), are global issues - not English issues

Social media’s problems, include those of Twitter (pictured, CEO Dorsey), are global issues – not English issues

Jackie Weaver and Handforth Parish Council’s meeting achieved notoriety far beyond these shores, much like Texas lawyer Rod Ponton, who appeared before a hearing as a panicking cat, due to an unfortunate Zoom filter setting.

We can discuss involving law enforcement but the fact remains the person sending monkey emojis to Marcus Rashford may be on the other side of the world.

Patrick O’Brien, 18, who bombarded Ian Wright with 20 racist messages after losing a video game, came from Tralee in west Ireland. In the most recent census, just 5.3 per cent of Tralee’s population identified as black, black Irish, Asian or Asian Irish.

Social media opens up the world but it opens it up to some very closed minds — just as Black Lives Matter and campaigns for social justice and equality have provoked positive and negative responses, from the Burnley fly-past to booing at Millwall.

Yet social media is where the forces of reaction can truly vent their fury, can take the fight directly to protagonists like Rashford, safely shielded by distance and anonymity. And that must change. Yet it is not as simple as imagined. If only everything in life was as uncomplicated as porn.

ELITE CLUBS CARE ABOUT THE REST? IT WAS A NICE LINE… 

Remember that romantic picture of John W Henry and the Glazer family, sitting at their homes on the east coast, so terribly worried about the state of the English football pyramid?

Rick Parry sold the vision to us as a way of justifying the power grab known as Project Big Picture. American venture capitalists were obsessed with the fate of Accrington Stanley, bless them.

Some observers fell for it, too. Liverpool and Manchester United were coming to the rescue of the less fortunate. They were moved by Bury’s demise, inspired to be the agents of change and reform.

Now, it appears, they have settled for an alternate vision. One that could leave the EFL, and its clubs, in a worse position than ever. For while conspiring with Parry in one room, the venture capitalists were holding other meetings, too — with the richest clubs in Europe, discussing a continental closed shop to replace UEFA’s Champions League.

As a result, UEFA have caved in to requests for an expanded competition, with several places reserved for any members of the elite that fail to qualify through domestic leagues.

Liverpool owner John W Henry's love for the struggling EFL was a nice line - but that's all it was

Liverpool owner John W Henry’s love for the struggling EFL was a nice line – but that’s all it was

This new schedule will affect the Carabao Cup, and the worth of the domestic television deal, which will then impact on the trickle-down economy so important to the EFL’s clubs. 

Champions League teams may no longer have room for the second domestic cup competition, which kills a significant slice of EFL broadcast revenue. Also, if the jeopardy of a major club failing to qualify for the Champions League is removed, one of the most dramatic subplots of the season goes with it. 

Again, that can only impact on Premier League broadcast rights, reducing the money spread through the league. The likes of Manchester United and Liverpool will not be troubled because they would have additional European fixtures — soon to be as good as guaranteed by UEFA co-efficients.

How much of this latest windfall will be redirected to the struggling EFL? Not much, if any, one presumes.

Fenway and the Glazers’ love for the little people was a nice line, but that’s all it was.

IF JOSE’S INJURY JIBE DOES NOT MOTIVATE BALE, IT IS THE END 

Escape from Colditz was a board game, in part devised by Pat Reid, a British Army officer who genuinely did.

It included a Do or Die card, a last desperate break for freedom when all seems lost.

The game ends there and then. If successful, the team have achieved their escape — if not, they are wiped from the board. It would appear Jose Mourinho has reached this stage with Gareth Bale.

Gareth Bale's Spurs career is over if he does not care about the implication he no longer cares

Gareth Bale’s Spurs career is over if he does not care about the implication he no longer cares

There is only one explanation for publicly appearing to doubt the extent of the injury that kept him out of the FA Cup tie at Everton — and that is if Mourinho’s intention is to rile the player into a response by attempting to prove him wrong.

If Bale is not motivated by the implication he no longer cares, then his Tottenham career is over.

Mourinho’s words suggested a man who has tried all other provocations without success.

He doesn’t care if Bale hates him, he just wants a reaction. It’s do or die; die, probably.

JIMMY NEEDS SOME REST, JUST LOOK AT VARDY  

With Jofra Archer out of the second Test in Chennai, the debate around whether to include Jimmy Anderson grows. The plan was to rest him for Stuart Broad. 

Yet with Archer’s only like-for-like replacement the callow Olly Stone, a fast bowler with a single Test against Ireland to his name, the call for Anderson after his first Test heroics will be strong.

It is a problem. Jamie Vardy’s form for Leicester also inspires regular demands for him to be restored to the England squad, ignoring the possibility that the rest during international breaks might be contributing hugely to his continued impact at the age of 34. Careful management might also explain why Anderson is as potent as ever at 38.

It is not as obvious as just slinging him in.

LET’S HAIL SHARMA’S 300 SCALPS  

In the hullabaloo around Joe Root’s 100th Test, Jimmy Anderson’s greatest over and a famous England victory, one achievement was rather overlooked in Chennai.

Ishant Sharma reached 300 Test wickets. That wouldn’t put him in the top five seam bowlers for England, but Sharma plays half of his cricket in India.

As helpful as the conditions are to India batsmen, so they are to the detriment of bowlers such as Sharma. India have only had three quicks pass 300 wickets. 

It is an exceptional milestone.

India's Ishant Sharma reached 300 Test wickets in the first Test - it is an exceptional milestone

India’s Ishant Sharma reached 300 Test wickets in the first Test – it is an exceptional milestone 

A way has been found for Jurgen Klopp to leave the country to face RB Leipzig in a Champions League game, but not to attend the funeral of his mother, Elisabeth.

What a strange and sad time this is.  

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