Henry hopes quitting social media inspires others to stand up to online abuse

FILE PHOTO: Former France international Thierry Henry - December 16, 2018 REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot//File Photo

(Reuters) - Former France international Thierry Henry hopes his decision to turn his back on social media can inspire others in the fight against racism and bullying online.

The ex-Arsenal and Barcelona striker, who has 15 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, on Friday said he would be disabling his accounts and called on platforms to tackle the issues of racism and bullying with the same effort they put into taking down material that infringes copyright.

Henry said social media had become a weapon for anonymous account holders.

"It's not a safe place," Henry, 43, told CNN Sport. "I wanted to take a stand on saying it is an important tool that unfortunately some people turn into a weapon because they hide behind a fake account.

"I did what I felt, and I hope it can inspire people to do the same thing."

Henry, who suffered racial abuse during his playing career, said he was inspired by former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who along with a fearsome reputation as a fighter, spoke out against racism, war and religious intolerance.

"Muhammad Ali didn't want to go to war, he didn't wait to see if everyone was with him, it's what he felt," Henry added. "I'm nowhere near that calibre...but I said to myself 'Thierry, that's how you feel, you feel strongly.'

Last month English soccer's governing bodies said Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were "havens for abuse" and urged the social media companies to tackle the problem in the wake of racist messages aimed at players.

Instagram has announced a series of measures to tackle online abuse, while Twitter, who took action on more than 700 cases of "abuse and hateful conduct" related to soccer in Britain in 2019, promised to continue its efforts to curb the problem.

Henry said mere statements from social media platforms were not enough.

"I've had enough of talking and hearing, I want to see action," he added. "I want to see the people in charge, the big guns, come out and explain."

(Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Michael Perry)

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