THERE is a positive side to social media. It creates a series of networks between like-minded people, enabling information and opinions to be disseminated widely. It provides a voice to those who might otherwise be disenfranchised, and promotes parts of society that might otherwise be ignored. In a sporting setting, the leading social media sites open a window onto a world that would ordinarily be inaccessible, making sports stars appear more human and approachable, and therefore broadening their appeal.

In my personal and professional life, I use social media sites every day. From the two-second catch-up with friends that might otherwise have drifted away to the tweet promoting a story I have written in order to direct readers to The Northern Echo’s website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have become staples of my everyday routine.

There has always been a downside, but in the past, it was relatively easy to ignore the occasional threatening comment or abusive message. Increasingly, though, the social media landscape has become an unregulated free-for-all where the threats have become more personal and the abuse more sickening. The more public your persona, the more unpalatable the diatribe becomes.

I have received plenty of abusive social-media messages through my role as Chief Sports Writer here at the Echo. They range from the tribal and fairly mundane (why are you writing about Middlesbrough when you are clearly a massive Sunderland fan) to the much more extreme end of the spectrum (threats of violence, comments about my personal life and family, suggestions that people ‘know where I live’). I’m fairly thick-skinned and have learned to shrug things off, even if muting or blocking an especially-abusive account only tends to silence the trolls for a couple of days before they reappear under a different guise.

I worry about how those more vulnerable would cope though – as a father of two girls, currently aged nine and seven, I definitely worry about the online world they are about to start encountering – and I shudder when I think of the barrage of horrendous comments that elite sport stars have to deal with every day. About a month ago, a footballer from one of our big three clubs showed me the messages that had been posted onto his social-media accounts the day after he had played in a defeat. He had barely put a foot wrong in the game, yet the incessant abuse hurled in his direction was abhorrent.

Speak to pretty much anyone involved in elite sport in this country, and they will say the problem is getting worse. Only yesterday, Blackpool and Sunderland were forced to post messages on their social media sites condemning the racist abuse posted on Grant Ward’s Instagram account in the wake of Blackpool’s victory at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday night.

So, when the Premier League, EFL, FA, Women’s Super League and all of England’s professional and leading non-league football clubs announced a boycott of all social-media channels this weekend, I instantly felt it was something that was important to support.

The blackout, which has subsequently been joined by a host of other sporting organisations including the ECB, and all county cricket clubs, and the Gallagher Premiership, and all professional rugby union teams, will not change anything overnight. Sadly, it is unlikely to force the leading social media companies into the kind of fundamental reform that is badly required.

It nudges the debate forward though, and that in itself is important. It highlights the way in which the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram do not adequately police their own platforms, preferring instead to grant abusers a cloak of anonymity that means it is impossible to trace and prosecute them. It flags up the social media sites’ failure to get serious when it comes to tackling serial abusers. And it helps expose the glaring differences between what a print newspaper like The Northern Echo is able to legally publish and what social media sites can carry and disseminate without any threat of being restrained by the law.

Therefore, when the sporting world pulls the plug on its social media between 3pm on Friday and midnight on Monday evening, so The Northern Echo will also be silencing its sporting social media channels. Our popular Echo Sport Twitter and Facebook feeds will fall silent, along with my own Twitter and Facebook pages and those of my colleagues who will be writing about sport.

There will be a cost to such action. This is a big weekend of football. On Saturday, Sunderland can guarantee their place in the play-offs. On Sunday, Newcastle could beat Arsenal. On Monday, I will be at Wembley covering the all-Northern League FA Vase final between Consett and Hebburn.

We will still be providing our extensive weekend coverage on The Northern Echo’s website, but with our social media channels silent, we will be unable to direct our online readers to the breaking news as we normally would. Unquestionably, though, we feel that is a price worth paying.

As the Great Daily of the North, a newspaper with a proud history of campaigning against intolerance and injustice, The Northern Echo will not stand by as others attempt to carry the fight. We have argued for much greater control of social media for years, highlighting case after case where the failure of social media companies to adequately police their own platforms has blighted and tragically sometimes ended lives.

This is an important fight, and we are proud to be part of it. As the sporting world is about to unequivocally state, enough is enough. By saying nothing this weekend, The Northern Echo hopes to once again ensure that its voice is heard.