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Thierry Henry scores LEAP23 ‘GOL’ with call of support for hate-free digital ecosystems

Football legend turned technology investor and social activist, Thierry Henry has called on the world’s leading social media platforms and digital ecosystem providers to harness their own technologies to safeguard an inclusive and level playing field on social media. 

Speaking on the Main Stage on the third day of LEAP23 – the world’s most visionary technology event, which runs at Riyadh Front Exhibition & Conference Centre until Thursday 9 February – Thierry Henry confronted the imbalance between how social media companies tackle issues of copyright in comparison to racism.

“A lot of the social media platforms create money through hate,” said Henry, who helped launch the Stand Up Speak Up anti-racism campaign in 2005. “If they know they can get sued by an artist or organisation, they create the algorithm they need to create. When they are not held accountable, they don’t create an algorithm because ultimately people are using the platform anyway.

“I came off social media in 2021 because I didn’t think it was a safe place. I thought maybe if I came off, it would prompt people to ask me questions and start that conversation. It worked for a little while, but people are still suffering and nothing has changed.” 

When asked what he would do to make the online world safer, Thierry Henry responded: “I would like to know: Can we identify the offenders? Can they be punished? And can we create algorithms that block abuse and racism? I would also remind people that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. It took me 40 years to talk about my emotions because I thought I would be seen as soft for being hurt. So talk to people, open up – or things will not end well.”

Thierry Henry, who remains involved in football, has evolved into a progressive technology investor since retiring as a player in 2014. Having been exposed to racism on the pitch and online, Henry was part of a team that in 2021 launched Game of Our Lives (GOL) – a gamified impact platform where social activists champion a wide variety of causes joined by their fans.

“GOL is a platform that provides a safe place to talk to people,” added the Frenchman, who played for AS Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona, and New York Red Bulls in a trophy-laden two-decade career. “My focus is hate speech and we have 2,000 volunteers in the UK. Is that great? Maybe not, but it’s a start. The overall goal of the GOL community – and all these important causes being championed – is to reach more than a billion people around the world. If they can give one per cent of their time to people and the planet by 2030, we can make a major impact.”

LEAP23 has garnered support from numerous leading government and private sector organisations. Strategic partners and sponsors for LEAP23 include NEOM, STC, Saudi Aramco, Mobily, IBM, Microsoft, Ericsson, Huawei, and Najm Insurance. The 2023 edition will also host country pavilions from the United Kingdom, Finland, Japan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Oman and India. 

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