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Can a football club leave social media?

From the possible boycott of Arsenal to the strategy of Bottega Veneta

Can a football club leave social media? From the possible boycott of Arsenal to the strategy of Bottega Veneta

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

With these words Thierry Henry has decided to deactivate his social accounts, thus leaving what the Arsenal legend has defined as "an unsafe environment". Social media have become a fundamental tool for the entire sport industry, but at the same time "someone turns them into a weapon" and there aren't enough rules to control their balance.

The problem of hate speech - discrimination and offenses via social media - is one of the sensitive issues of current affairs and, among the clubs involved, Arsenal is one of the most active: with the #StopOnlineAbuse campaign, the Gunners have highlighted a "dark side" too important to be cast aside. The project conceived by the London club aims to emotionally support the players and at the same time represents a way to ask the companies that own the social platforms to extend the use of their identity cards to all accounts.

A few days ago Gunners CEO Vinai Venkatesham told Sky Sports UK that in their fight against online abuse "nothing is out of the question, including a total boycott of platforms like Instagram and Twitter". The reflection of the heir of Gadzidis extends to a concern that goes beyond the isolated case or the single episode:

"There is a very dark side of social media and we cannot accept it. The situation is getting worse and we need to find a way to resolve it. It is not an easy problem to solve. My biggest fear is that this type of behaviour becomes normalised".

But Arsenal will eventually not be the first to "boycott" social media to send a clear message to the market. Although for different reasons, in the fashion world Bottega Veneta has decided to close its social accounts by applying an organic and indirect strategy that focuses solely and exclusively on ambassadors. After exceeding 2.5 million followers on Instagram, the brand has decided to change its use by going against the tide, deciding not to "trivialize Daniel Lee's work" and using social media in an unconventional way.

The farewell to social networks already put into practice by Henry and on which Arsenal are pondering is a strategic response that brings with it pros and cons. The sense of action of this magnitude can serve as inspiration, but at the same time it can take influential voices out of one of the longest struggles in sport; it can be a strong signal against all forms of discrimination, but at the same time it can figure as a surrender; it can be a form of protection of rights, but at the same time it is a way of not exposing oneself.

The weight of social media in a hyper-connected media way is too important to be underestimated and Venkatesham himself has already communicated that if the boycott becomes a reality, it will be a temporary choice. Leaving the social platforms is equivalent, for Arsenal, to giving up a community of 77.7 million fans (calculated by adding the data of the Gunners on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Tik Tok) and above all potentially contravening what was stipulated in the contracts of sponsorship, increasingly focused on social presence given and considered the restrictions that force the stadiums to remain closed.

Even Arsenal, with the complete boycott, would choose to tackle a problem in a new and unusual way. The hypothesis is currently on standby and news is expected from the CEO of the Gunners, who in the meantime is evaluating the consequences of a strategy that would be a significant continuum after an initiative such as the #BlackoutTuesday of 2 June 2020.