How I landed investment from Rio Ferdinand for my hate-free social app

WeAre8 allows users to express themselves without trolling. It made perfect sense to Rio
Sue Fennessy
Rio Ferdinand and team

A light has been shone in recent years on the level of hate footballers receive on social media and, after too long being ignored, it has received more and more mass publicity. From the abuse Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford received after the Euro 2020 final to the racism suffered by Real Madrid player Vinicius Junior in recent months, online hate from certain social media users - fuelled by the anonymity and the ability to evade accountability for their actions - continues to thrive. Just the other week, a new report from FIFA found that almost 20,000 abusive social media posts were aimed at players, officials and coaches during the Qatar World Cup. Can you believe that of 20 million posts and comments that were analysed across all major social media platforms, only 306 account owners that sent the abusive messages were successfully verified? Sadly, I can. But there is hope.

What is the solution to such widespread online hate? This is one of the questions, along with my desire to help tackle social injustice, climate change and the mental health crisis, that drove me to build WeAre8 - a hate-free social media app designed to provide a safer and more inclusive online environment for our citizens and creators. Working with behavioural scientists, we also discovered that in order to build an ad model that didn’t just get someone's attention but made them feel loved and inspired to give back, there has to be a direct economic benefit. Our mission soon attracted the interest and support of a number of high-profile athletes and ex-athletes, but there was one who immediately understood how this kind of space could transform the lives of his fans and followers - Rio Ferdinand. 

This mission, which inspired Rio to join us, is to unite just 1% of the world to make a positive impact for people and the planet and it motivates both of us every day. So much so in fact, that Rio is now a major partner, investor, ambassador, and a hugely active and passionate member of the WeAre8 community. He dedicates his time to media interviews, exclusive WeAre8 shows like ‘Get Real With Rio’ where he interviews others in the public eye doing good and attending global events like Cannes Lions with the WeAre8 team. But how did we get to this point? 

I first met Rio in August 2021 through a friend and colleague at BT Sport. In that initial meeting, and a follow up meeting in September, I introduced him to the WeAre8 vision to create an inclusive and economically empowering social media platform that serves people and the planet. As a highly active and renowned personality on social media, Rio has suffered relentless online abuse. He therefore decided to seek out an alternative platform where he, his peers, his family, and other social media users, could express their thoughts and share life experiences in a positive space without being subjected to hate and unjust criticism. Our shared view of what social media could be made for an outstanding first meeting and, by Rio’s own admission, he was sold on the idea of WeAre8 and the huge volume of change we could drive, within the space of five minutes! It was time to change the game together. 

Our shared values didn’t stop there. As an entrepreneur, Rio also made it clear that any brands he works with need to be ‘brave and consistent’, qualities he saw in my background as as a serial tech entrepreneur - founder and former CEO of Standard Media Index, the world’s leading media data aggregation business and, more recently, through the growth of WeAre8. Our unique and transformational social media model, which gives back to both people and planet, drives business results and invites meaningful and unprecedented levels of audience engagement. 

Rio was also excited to make a wider societal impact by investing in and advocating for WeAre8, which amplifies the work he’s also pursuing via the Rio Ferdinand Foundation. He’s passionate about the power every citizen has to help fight climate change through ‘small actions’ within the app, as well as our ability to economically empower them by giving them a portion of the revenue from ads they watch paid into their wallet, where they can pay their phone bills, cash out, or pay it forward to a charity of their choice. A social ecosystem where people, charities and brands all thrive.

Through the many wonderful conversations I’ve had with Rio, I know that he’s just as motivated as I am to contribute meaningfully to society and help transform the lives of as many people as possible. By getting involved with  WeAre8, the world’s only B-Corp-certified social media platform, he has found a way to realise this mission. In turn, his investment in the company - both financially and in terms of his passion, dedication and profile - has been essential to our continuing growth and success. If we’re talking about growth, gaining investment and being successful as a business, a lot can be said for such a strong alignment of values and a shared goal.

Written by
Sue Fennessy
Founder & CEO, WeAre8
August 17, 2023