Willian says the responsibility of tackling online abuse lies with football and social media authorities because players themselves cannot enact change.
The Arsenal winger admitted all players can do is follow the reporting protocol when they are the victims of abuse and perhaps speak out about it in the media, while the power to make change actually happen remains with governing bodies, social media companies and lawmakers.
Liverpool called for “the strongest possible preventative measures” to be taken over racist abuse on social media after Trent Alexander-Arnold, Naby Keita and Sadio Mane were recently targeted.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, confirmed to Sky Sports News it had recently removed accounts that had sent racially abusive messages to Brentford striker Ivan Toney and Tottenham defender Davinson Sanchez for breaking the platform’s rules, while it is investigating the abuse sent to Alexander-Arnold, Keita and Mane.
Instagram took action on 6.6m pieces of hate speech between October and December in 2020
Willian most recently publicised racist abuse he was receiving in February. He posted screenshots of abusive direct messages he had received to his Instagram story with the caption: “Something needs to change! The fight against racism continues.”
He also publicly supported former Shakhtar Donetsk team-mate Taison in 2019, after he was subject to racist abuse during a match against Dynamo Kyiv.
“It has been difficult to talk about it. We as players, we cannot do a lot. We do what we can, we report it, we share it with you guys and we speak about it, but we want action,” he said in a press conference ahead of Arsenal’s Europa League game against Slavia Prague.
“We don’t see any action from the authorities. We have to try to find a way to stop it. It is difficult, when people say horrible words about you or about your family, that’s not good. They can criticise us in relation to what we do on the pitch, I have no problem with that.
“If they want to criticise me for what I am doing on the pitch, if I have to play better, if I have to train more, I will accept this. When they come to attack you and your family, that is not good. We have to try a way to stop it.
“I was in that situation. It was very difficult for me. I was seeing horrible words against my family on my phone for example. After that I said to myself, enough is enough. I have to try something, take some action against racism and online abuse.
“To change it we need action. As players we do what we can, we need authorities to do the action.”
Arsenal recently launched a #StopOnlineAbuse action plan as part of a collective effort within football aimed at combatting discrimination on social media and the club has vowed to work with governing bodies, clubs, and partners to eradicate it from the game.
“I am proud because the club are doing that, they help us a lot. I will not stop my fight against racism,” he added.
When asked what advice he would give to younger players experiencing abuse online or on the pitch for the first time, he said: “The advice is to share. Put it on your social media, speak and never have fear to do so. These people have to pay for it. I don’t know why they do it, we want to know that. The advice is to speak and share.”
‘My first reaction is to delete my social accounts’
Arsenal’s chief executive Vinai Venkatesham has said the club would also consider joining Thierry Henry’s boycott of social media if more is not done to prevent online abuse towards their players.
Willian revealed he has come close to deleting his own accounts and he is often afraid to even look at his phone after matches.
“I feel I want to delete my social media account,” he said. “I see some people that are deleting because of racism and abuse. Straight away I want to do that, but when I think and take a few minutes, I relax. Straight away the reaction is to delete.”
“To be honest [I am afraid to look]. We are human, you know? I want to understand these people, who they are, who they think they are to speak to us like this?
“We are professional, we do our best to help the team. We always want to win. We have our bad days, sometimes you are not feeling good, you have problems like everyone.
“Personal problems, family problems, sometimes you are not in a good day, you have a bad game and they come and say these kind of words that hurt you. We want to stop it, enough is enough.”
Hate Won’t Stop Us
Sky Sports is committed to making skysports.com and our channels on social media platforms a place for comment and debate that is free of abuse, hate and profanity.
For more information, please visit: www.skysports.com/hatewontstopus
If you see a reply to Sky Sports posts and/or content with an expression of hate on the basis of race, colour, gender, nationality, ethnicity, disability, religion, sexuality, age or class, please copy the URL to the hateful post or screengrab it and email us here.
Kick It Out reporting racism
Kick It Out is football’s equality and inclusion organisation – working throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and campaign for positive change.