It’s time to Draw the Line and end hate speech on social media

For too long, hate speech on social media – often directed at people who are simply doing their jobs – has been accepted as the norm. Now we’re committing to make a change. It’s time for BT to step up and stand against the abuse we see every day on social media. There can be no place for it in the connected, digitally-inclusive UK we want to help create.

So today we are launching Draw The Line, the start of a multi-million pound BT campaign to address this issue and take meaningful action. Hate speech on social media is a growing issue faced by our customers and our own people. It’s not good enough for any of us to stand by while online abuse goes unchallenged. So we’re using BT’s scale and influence to tackle the problem and change attitudes.

We want everyone to understand there is no justification that would ever make it okay to abuse another human being because of their gender, the colour of their skin, how they identify themselves, or even simply because they disagree with their opinion.

This began for BT as a conversation with Facebook and Twitter, and a frustration that more was not being done, and faster, to combat hate speech on social media. And, while progress is being made, it must happen quicker. Any measures to address hate speech in the Government’s proposed Online Safety Bill will not be introduced soon enough.

YouGov research commissioned by BT reveals the true societal scale of abuse on social media:

  • More than one in 10, over 5 million people, have received online abuse over the past 12 months.
  • Online abuse is worse for women, with one in five women that received online abuse saying it was about their appearance.
  • 23 per cent of people who identify as gay or lesbian have received online abuse about their sexual orientation.

These are just a few picked from a shocking set of statistics. And it shows that as a society we need to be more proactive in protecting ourselves and understand what we can do to support others who are being abused. For everyone: our customers, colleagues and country.

How BT is Drawing The Line

Draw The Line marks the start of a huge focus for us in tackling online hate for good, with real, actionable outcomes for today and tomorrow. It will be led by BT Sport across our social media channels, with support from rights holders including Premiership Rugby, Welsh rugby regions and Cricket Australia. We're also working closely with the Premier League, FA and PFA to share the campaign.

The campaign will see BT implement its own Anti Online Abuse Policy. As part of this, we will proactively respond, delete, block or report hate and abuse to ensure our own social channels are safer spaces for their communities. Plus we will work harder to support our colleagues who are targeted in this way. I urge other companies to take similar steps.

We will also spotlight the issue across BT Sport channels for the remainder of the season, starting with a spot in our pre-lunchtime kick-off programming for Crystal Palace v Manchester City on BT Sport 1 tomorrow. This will be followed by a powerful interview with our own Karen Carney – the first time Karen has spoken on the subject since suffering abhorrent abuse after comments she made as a TV pundit earlier this year – on BT Sport Score on Saturday.

Being a great ally

Draw The Line has been developed with support from Glitch, a UK charity making the internet safer for everyone. Glitch training has upskilled our BT team to become active bystanders online, as well as helped develop an AI Abuse tracker tool, which tracks the level of abuse on Twitter. What we’ve found is, again, staggering:

  • During one 90-minute match there was a 350% increase in abusive tweets in just five minutes as teams failed to score
  • Across all the matches tracked, we observed a 65 per cent increase in religious abuse and a 45 per cent increase in sexual orientation abuse
  • During the course of another tracked match – an average of 1 in 10 abusive Tweets in the UK were sent from ‘troll’ accounts, purposely created to deliver insulting or hurtful messages. A high proportion of participants in our YouGov survey reinforced this saying those who had experienced abuse said it came through troll accounts.

Our purpose at BT is to Connect For Good. We have a responsibility beyond connecting our customers. We must lead the way in creating a brighter, more sustainable future for the UK.

But we all have a part to play. I’d encourage everyone to take a stand now, be a real ally and call out abuse on social media wherever you see it.

It’s time to Draw The Line.

Marc Allera, CEO, BT’s Consumer Division. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MarcAllera