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English soccer at breaking point over abuse on social media –



Death threats. Racist abuse. Sexist slurs. And social media accounts allowed to stay active even after spreading bile.

English football has reached breaking point with players, coaches, referees and officials aghast at the ongoing proliferation of hate aimed at them on Instagram and Twitter.

A week that began with the Premier League’s most high profile referee reporting threats of physical harm to police and more Black players targeted by racist users, drew a pledge by Instagram to clamp down on hate but undercut by leniency shown toward abusers.

It’s why English football leaders have taken their concerns to the top of the social media giants, uniting for an unprecedented joint letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter counterpart Jack Dorsey that demands the platforms stop being “havens for abuse” by taking tougher action to eradicate the viciousness.

“Your inaction has created the belief in the minds of the anonymous perpetrators that they are beyond reach,” read the letter whose signatories included officials from the English Football Association, the Premier League, Women’s Super League and the organizations representing players, managers and referees.

One of world football’s leading anti-discrimination officials believes it could be time to log off until meaningful action is taken.

“What they probably need to do now is to have their own boycott,” said Piara Powar, executive director of the FARE network. “Can you imagine if Premier League clubs, even symbolically for one day this year called for a boycott of social media use by their fans, didn’t post anything for a day, and then kept doing that until the platforms showed some serious intent?

“Because there’s no question, although the issues in football are probably a scratch on the back of what Facebook is facing globally, if the level of engagement that football brings … they just wouldn’t want to lose that.”

But the platforms that allow clubs and players to engage with fans — and monetize sponsorships — can also be used as a force for good.

Manchester United and England striker Marcus Rashford showed just that by using Twitter in particular in the last year to campaign against child poverty. He utilized his ever-growing following of more than four million to pressure the government into providing free school meals during the pandemic.

“It wasn’t here 10-15 years ago and we’re privileged to have it, to connect with people all over the world with different cultures and religions,” Rashford told broadcaster Sky Sports. “To see people use it in a negative way is stupid. Hopefully they can sort out that.”

Rashford knows how disturbing the platforms can be as he was targeted with racist messages along with United teammates Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial after a defeat to Sheffield United last month.

Rashford wants racist users “deleted straight away.” Facebook, which owns Instagram, this week pledged to disable accounts that send abusive direct messages as part of a push to show it would act on racism. But it became clearer when pressed on the policy that only a repeated number of unspecified racist messages would see a user banned.

“That isn’t really a position that’s acceptable to many people,” Powar said.

Instagram’s lack of a zero tolerance approach meant the account that racially abused Swansea player Yan Dhanda after an FA Cup loss to Manchester City on Wednesday will remain active, with only some messaging functions disabled for an unspecified period of time.

“We think it’s important people have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes,” said a statement from Facebook owner Instagram. “If they continue to break our rules this account will be removed.”

That does not go far enough for Swansea, which said it was “shocked and surprised by the leniency shown” over such toxic conduct.

“It is appalling that Facebook cannot empathize more with the victim of such offensive messages,” the south Wales club said in a statement on Saturday.

The police appear more determined to intervene and prosecute offenders who have used social media to hurl hatred. The government is also introducing legislation — the online safety bill — that could see social media companies fined for failing to protect their users.

The letter from the English football authorities to Dorsey and Zuckerberg asked for an improved verification process that ensures users provide accurate identification information and are barred from registering with a new account if banned. The need to submit identification documentation has been cautioned against by those highlighting how anonymity on the platforms can assist engagement by victims of domestic abuse, whistleblowers and those trying to communicate from danger zones.

Social media can still do more to detect abuse on their services.

“The failure to take down and challenge the worst type sort of racism, sexism we’ve seen has really left them untouched,” said Powar, whose FARE network investigates discrimination in football for governing bodies. “They just don’t seem to see it as a priority because there’s no question that they have the technical capability.”

Even staying off the sites yourself isn’t enough to escape being targeted with threats of violence, as managers and referees have discovered.

Referee Mike Dean contacted the police after receiving death threats through family accounts after sending players off in matches last week.

“Online abuse is unacceptable in any walk of life,” said Mike Riley, a former Premier League referee who is general manager of England’s refereeing body, “and more needs to be done to tackle the problem.”

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce has been alarmed by the menacing messages aimed at him via the account of son Alex, a former Hull and Ipswich defender.

“It’s really horrible stuff,” Bruce said. “Things like someone saying they hope I die of COVID.”

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta still has accounts but doesn’t log in himself anymore because of the vitriol.

“I prefer not to read because it would affect me personally much more the moment somebody wants to touch my family,” Arteta said. “The club was aware of it and we tried to do something about it and … can we do something about it? That’s what I am pushing for.”

It’s why players still take a knee before kickoff, as they have done since June as part of the Black Lives Matter campaign.

“This is us taking a stand against racism,” said Aston Villa defender Neil Taylor, who is trying to encourage more fellow British Asians into the sport. “I don’t think we’ll ever fully eradicate it, but we’re now trying to create a society which calls people out on it.”

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Do ‘Likes’ Cause Social Media Addiction? – Psychology Today



A recently published study suggests that ‘likes’ on Instagram work in similar ways to the delivery of food to a hungry rat pressing a lever in a Skinner Box1.  The faster that ‘likes’ are received, the more postings are made.  The results have led to some media speculation that this is the source of obsessional or addictive use of social media, and about the dopamine-related nature of such behaviours2.  In themselves, such suggestions are not novel, as I have discussed previously3, but the results from this new study are interesting for the assumptions they reveal about the way reinforcement impacts behaviour during conditioning.  This sparks a number of considerations about whether reward-directed actions are the only mechanism that explain high rates of social media use.

At root, reinforcement theory sounds very simple (the word ‘sounds’ should be a clue that what is to follow isn’t simple at all).  You make a response, you receive an outcome, and, if the outcome is ‘good’, then you make the response more frequently.  This can be called ‘instrumental conditioning’ or ‘operant conditioning’, and it is associated with the work of B.F. Skinner.  Taking this concept further, the authors of the manuscript1 (more or less) correctly claim that the higher the rate of reinforcement (‘likes’), the higher will be the rate of response (or, in their terms, the shorter will be the gap between postings).  This relationship between the rate of response and the rate of reinforcement is called ‘The Matching Law’, and it has been used for many years to explain many aspects of behaviour, both human and nonhuman4

The new study of the impact of ‘likes’1 suggests the idea of reinforcement could be applied to understand social media usage.  In a series of different studies, patterns of social media postings were analysed in terms of the relationship between the speed at which successive posts were made, and whether or not the preceding post received a ‘like’.  As would be predicted, receiving a ‘like’ was related to shorter latencies to make the next post.  A good feature of this study was that this pattern was seen in both analyses of real world Instagram responses (albeit from quite specialised sets of posts), and in an experiment where the rate of ‘likes’ was manipulated.  These are good data, corroborating what many people have suggested for some time3, but the question is: do they show that reward learning drives social media use?  There are some caveats that need thinking through – there are always such caveats with a study, so that is not an issue, in itself, but they are worth considering, nonetheless.

From a reinforcement theorist’s perspective, perhaps of even greater interest than the basic result, which might have been predicted, was that the relationship between posting and ‘likes’ differed between different sets of individuals.  There were individuals who showed patterns of responding very strongly related to the rates of ‘likes’, and others who did not show this pattern.  The authors suggest that these groups differed from one another in personality, and one group did not value social reward.  Whether personality is involved, or not, is a debatable point, but the fact that the data show this pattern suggests the possibility that responses are under reinforcer control.  Only when there is a reinforcer do we see a predictable pattern – if ‘likes’ are not reinforcing, then the pattern does not occur – it does not just happen for everybody.  Identifying what an individual values before the study, using some functional assessment procedures, would add weight to this suggestion.

An aspect of reinforcement theory, not given as much analysis as it might have been in the published model1, is that, in such complex reinforcement situations – where organisms are free to make responses without constraint (that is, on free-operant schedules) – not all responses are controlled directly by their outcomes.  This has implications for whether reward of behaviour represents all that there is to be understood about social media use from the perspective of learning theory.  In fact, the degree to which these ‘like’ rewarded responses are involved in social media use, and, potentially, social media addiction, could be profitably analysed further.

It has long been suggested that some responses on free-operant schedule situations are directed towards the outcome (sometimes called goal-directed actions), while some responses are driven by the stimuli that are present at the time the response is made (sometimes called habits)5,6.  The authors of the new study1 discussed, with some insight, the role of ‘likes’ in producing behaviour, and implicitly equated these ‘likes’ with rewards controlling goal-directed actions.

However, by positively conditioning the stimuli associated with social media, ‘likes’ also make it more likely that the sight of these stimuli (the mobile phone, for example) will drive people’s behaviour – a sort of habitual response, emitted when those stimuli are present6.  This process has been suggested to play a role in gambling addictions (the sight of the slot machine, with its noisy and bright attractive stimuli drives gambling).  Such conditioning in the context of social media would require the presence of reinforcers, such as ‘likes’, but they do not always act to produce reward-directed behaviours, and the neural pathways of these stimulus-driven habits may be different to reward-related dopamine pathways.  Such habitual behaviours may also be harder to remove7, and they have been shown to differ between personality types8.

Some responses in free-operant schedules are neither goal-directed actions nor stimulus-driven and habitual, but rather are ‘schedule-induced’.  Put very loosely indeed, schedule-induced responses are emitted when an organism has to fill in the time between the deliveries of reinforcements9.  There is somewhat more to it than this, but it is a good enough description to allow understanding of another cause of excessive social media behaviour.  When reinforcers are spaced out, behaviours, which can be emitted in that context, will be emitted between the reinforcers – behaviour expands to fill the time available.  It may be that the reinforcers in question are not even connected to social media (e.g., real chats with friends), but, in the gap between these other reinforcing events, social media is a behaviour that can fill the time, so it does.

Our understanding of schedule-controlled behaviour is vast, being derived from nearly a century of empirical work.  It is widely, and unjustly, ignored in Psychology – but it always seems to have incredibly informed and interesting suggestions about the sources of behavioural control.  It always suggests that things are more complicated than people think – and the area of social media use is no exception – and perhaps that is why schedules of reinforcement aren’t invoked as much as they should be.     

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Myanmar police launch most extensive crackdown; one woman dead, media say – The Guardian



(Reuters) – Police in Myanmar launched their most sweeping crackdown in three weeks of nationwide protests against military rule on Saturday, arresting hundreds of people and shooting and wounding at least one person.

State television announced that Myanmar’s U.N. envoy had been fired for betraying the country, a day after he urged the United Nations to use “any means necessary” to reverse the Feb. 1 coup that ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army seized power and detained Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership, alleging fraud in a November election her party won in a landslide.

The coup, which stalled Myanmar’s progress toward democracy, has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets and drawn condemnation from Western countries, with some imposing limited sanctions.

Police were out in force early on Saturday, taking up positions at usual protest sites in the main city of Yangon.

Confrontations developed as people came out despite the police operation, chanting and singing. They scattered into side streets and buildings as police advanced, firing tear gas, setting off stun grenades and shooting guns into the air. Police set upon some people with clubs, witnesses said.

State-run MRTV television said more than 470 people had been arrested across the country. It said police had given warnings before dispersing people with stun grenades.

“People blocked the roads without reason. Among those arrested, we will scrutinize those who organize the protests and take tough action,” it said.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners rights group said it believed the number of arrests was higher, with at least 10 prison buses carrying 40 to 50 people each taken to the Insein Prison in Yangon.

Several journalists were among those detained, their media organisations and colleagues said.

“People are protesting peacefully but they’re threatening us with weapons,” youth activist Shar Yamone told Reuters.

“We’re fighting to end to this military bullying which has been going on for generation after generation.”

Police confronted protesters across the country. Among those detained in the second city of Mandalay was Win Mya Mya, one of two Muslim members of parliament for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), media said.


One woman was shot and wounded in the central town of Monwya, local media 7Day News and an emergency worker said. 7Day and two other media organisations had earlier reported that she was dead.

Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing has said authorities have been using minimal force. Nevertheless, at least three protesters have died over the days of turmoil. The army says a policeman has been killed in the unrest.

Activists called for another day of protests on Sunday.

Saturday’s violence came a day after Myanmar’s Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun told the U.N. General Assembly he was speaking on behalf of Suu Kyi’s government and appealed for help to end the military coup.

MRTV television said he had been fired in accordance with civil service rules because he had “betrayed the country” and “abused the power and responsibilities of an ambassador”.

However, the United Nations has not officially recognised the junta as Myanmar’s new government.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said he was overwhelmed by the ambassador’s “act of courage”, adding on Twitter “It’s time for the world to answer that courageous call with action”.

China’s envoy did not criticise the coup and said the situation was an internal Myanmar affair, adding that China supported a diplomatic effort by Southeast Asian countries to find a solution.

The Myanmar generals have traditionally shrugged off diplomatic pressure. Australia’s Woodside Petroleum Ltd said it was cutting its presence in Myanmar over concern about rights violations and violence.

Suu Kyi, 75, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest during military rule. She faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and of violating a natural disaster law by breaching coronavirus protocols.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Robert Birsel and Matthew Tostevin; Editing by William Mallard, Clarence Fernandez and Frances Kerry)

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CPAC Stage Compared To Nazi Symbol On Social Media – Forbes



Comparisons of law makers to fascists and Nazis isn’t uncommon these days, but on Saturday the hashtag #Nazi was trending alongside mentions of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where former President Trump is set to speak on Sunday. This time it wasn’t Republican lawmakers who were compared to Nazis however, but rather the similarity of the stage to an ancient Norse symbol used by Nazis was noted by thousands of users on Twitter.

By Saturday afternoon there had been nearly 100,000 tweets that compared the CPAC stage to the ODAL Rune, which was used by a unit of the insidious Waffen SS, the initially named the SS-Volunteer Division Prinz Eugen (SS-Freiwilligen-Division “Prinz Eugen”) – later the 7th Volunteer Mountain Division. That unit was formed in 1941 and took part exclusively in action against the communist-led Yugoslavian partisans during the Second World War.

Many on Twitter shared images of the symbol along with photos of the CPAC stage:

However, it is important to note that the Odal rune, also known as the Othala rune, predates the Nazi movement and the Third Reich by centuries and it first appeared between the 3rd and 8th centuries. While it was adopted by Nazi Germany, and has been used by various neo-Nazi groups, it seems dubious to think that the design was intention.

As of Saturday afternoon the fact check website could only suggest it was “unproven” that the stage at CPAC 2021 was intentionally designed to look like an early European rune.

One user, Jack Andrew Giddes (@JackGiddes), even took the time to share a photo of his kitchen floor, adding, ” Here is part of my kitchen floor during the day, lit by natural light (L). If you stand in one spot with the ceiling lights on you get this (R), but I stress it’s undetectable unless you’re in a specific spot. My kitchen floor is a coincidence. CPAC’s stage? I have my doubts.”

However, many users responded to the claims on social media that too much was being read into the apparent symbolism.

Author Jim C. Hines (@jimchines) was among those who suggested that the choice of stage design likely didn’t mean to copy the infamous symbol, “Out of curiosity, has there been any pattern of Democrats ‘accidentally’ using Nazi symbolism and iconography? If that sort of thing is an innocent and unavoidable mistake, you’d expect it to happen regardless of political party, right?”

Another user, @Rasta1619, also questioned how commonly known this symbol actually is in the mainstream.

Past Symbols

The Odal rune is now in the spotlight, just weeks after other eagle eyed users on Twitter noted that during President Joe Biden’s inauguration the “Betsy Ross” flag was seen. Former Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was among those who took notice of the flag. He addressed the issue directly from his Twitter account:

It was also a dozen years ago, in August 6, 2008 that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh compared the new healthcare logo used by the Obama administration to that of the Nazi eagle. While that could be seen as a stretch, any visitor to Washington, D.C. is likely going to see a number of fascist symbols – and not those carried by protestors – but rather on the buildings.

At the Lincoln Memorial there are literally fasces, the bundle of rods bound by a leather thong. As The Washington Post previously reported, the very same symbol can also be seen in federal buildings throughout the nation’s capitol including the Justice Department. That particular symbol dates back even further than the Odal rune, and was used during the Roman Republic as a symbol of power and authority.

The idea is that a single stick may be weak, but bound together in unity there is strength. It is also is meant to evoke power, strength, authority and justice. The symbol was used throughout Washington, D.C. and a pair literally flanks the speaker’s podium in the House of Representatives. They are thus present during a presidential state of the union as well – but never is that symbol called out.

Likewise, the most infamous of Nazi icons, the swastika, was once a symbol of good luck and can be seen on countless buildings. Over the years some buildings have been also been called out for inadvertently resembling a swastika or other Nazi-esque symbol from above. In most cases it was a coincidence, and in the case of CPAC it should likely be chalked up to another unfortunate coincidence.

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