How teams are trying to combat social media abuse, and how you can encourage positivity

Take a look at how Manchester United are attempting to combat social media abuse, as well as how other organisations have tried to introduce community guidelines. And there's an insight into the Threads algorithm.

How teams are trying to combat social media abuse, and how you can encourage positivity
The cover of Manchester United's recently published Social Media Code

Ask anyone to name one of the downsides of social media and I'd imagine most would mention abuse.

If you've spent any time looking through the replies to social media posts by sports teams you'll no doubt have seen this first hand. For those of you working in this industry it's probably a part of it that fills you with dread.

Passion is often given as one of the best parts of sport. But unfortunately it's also that same passion that can bring out the worst in people. And that's before fans of other clubs decide to get involved.

Manchester United's Social Media Code

This week, Manchester United launched their Social Media Code initiative. The purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness of the amount of negativity that goes through the club's social channels and outline how they plan to combat it.

Click the image to view the post on X

According to the figures in their announcement, the number of posts that have been identified as being unacceptable on the club's platforms has quadrupled since 2022.

While Manchester United are one of the biggest clubs in the world, which brings with it added attention both on and off the field, they're far from the only team that has to deal with these issues.

The code isn't particularly long, but does say that they "regularly monitor each of our social media channels" and proactively deal with discriminatory or hateful comments. They say that this action could involve removing posts and blocking users.

Clubs blocking fans on social media isn't a new thing - there's a post on this very site covering the topic from 2014 - but it's certainly not something you hear about regularly.

So that's Manchester United's potential approach. What are other clubs doing? And what can you do, if anything?

Policies across the leagues

Out of the top 92 teams in England, only one club has a - fairly - easily accessible social media policy.

My own definition of "easily accessible" here means that it I should be able to find it within two or three clicks from social media. If it's buried on a website with no links from a social channel, you can't rightly expect people to find it.

I'm also assuming Manchester United mean to have their new code accessible, but the link from Twitter goes to a 404 at the time of writing.

For the club in question, which is Barnsley, there's a link from their Linktree to a page featuring the club's policies. It's at the bottom of the section titled "Club Websites".

Heading to that page leads to an image carousel. One of the options is the club's social media policy. That gives you a five page PDF file last updated in January 2023, judging by the file name.

The club outline very similar requirements to Manchester United when it comes to online conduct, and the punishments are more or less the same.

McLaren Racing have a similar approach to community management. Their social media community code has been online for a few years now and is one of the earliest and most prominent examples I can remember (they told people about it in 2022).

How do you manage negativity online?

Sadly it's impossible to completely stop online abuse. But clubs should definitely be making more use of the tools that social networks provide.

Blocking abusive users is the first step, particularly the persistent ones. And it goes without saying that comments that are discriminatory should be an instant ban.

Publishing guidelines

In order to be able to do this, however, you need a public and defined set of guidelines. These really should be able to be accessed quickly and easily from social media, and ideally referenced in your profile where possible. And remind people of them regularly.

Mentioning your guidelines often means that people have no come back when you point to them as a reason for action being taken.

Ideally these rules should be on a webpage, like the McLaren Racing example. Pages are quicker and easier to update for you, and they're more accessible too. And keep them updated as often as you can.

They should say which channels you use, with links to them, as well as listing the potential repercussions of anyone who posts comments that don't adhere to the guidelines.

It doesn't need to be any more complicated than that.

Sport England's is a good start if you're looking for inspiration, and Brand Bastion has some more tips for how to create and enforce your guidelines.

Reward and recognise positivity

One of the ways you can change behaviour is to reward anyone that posts in a responsible way online. On social media this is straight forward - either reply to them, or quote their post for others to see.

If you're using something like Discord, you can give out badges and special statuses for positive role models. Amplify the positives, and ignore the negatives.

"Don't feel the trolls" is a pretty common approach, but not many go to the other way and reward those that contribute to discussions and engagement in a meaningful way.

What about if you're running an account?

If you're the one posting, reading, and responding to comments online, it's important to remember that you're not the one people are being abusive towards.

If at any time you feel overwhelmed by the nature of the comments, or see something that disturbs you, it's important to speak to senior staff to let them know. Burying something, or trying to ignore it, doesn't often make the problem go away.

And the more managers know what's going on the more likely you are to get buy-in to implementing a set of guidelines for fans to follow.

Here's what the Threads algorithm likes to see

Still trying to get your head around Threads? You're not alone. From what I can see, most clubs are using it more sparingly than other platforms (particularly X).

In case you are sticking with it, Meta recently shared an overview of how the site's algorithm works. This is what decides the posts a person sees when they log in.

It'll be no surprise to learn that replies, follows, and likes are king when it comes to judging how popular posts are.

The site also takes into account how active you are. The longer you spend on there, the more you'll see. And more active users will likely see deeper cuts from profiles.

The full page on the algorithm is available in Meta's transparency centre.