Social media abuse: Twitter takes 'easy' option, says Professional Footballers' Association

By Simon StoneBBC Sport
Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford
Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford were all racially abused on social media after England's Euro 2020 final loss to Italy

The Professional Footballers' Association has called on Twitter to stop taking the "easy" option to tackle abuse aimed at players online.

New research showed a 48% rise in racist abuse sent to players on the social media platform during the second half of last season.

And the majority of accounts that sent the abuse were still on Twitter as recently as last month, it found.

"Taking comments down is easy," said PFA chief executive Maheta Molango.

"It's not about taking down comments, it is about holding the people behind those accounts accountable. This report shows that, if we want, there are ways to actually identify people and hold them accountable."

There have been numerous calls from within football for social media companies to take more action against discrimination on their platforms.

Earlier this year clubs, players, athletes and a number of sporting bodies took part in a four-day boycott of social media in an attempt to tackle abuse and discrimination.

After England's Euro 2020 final defeat by Italy, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho were targeted by racist abuse online, leading to a Metropolitan Police investigation and condemnation from, among others, the Duke of Cambridge, the Football Association and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The PFA commissioned data science company Signify to carry out extensive research on Twitter throughout last season.

The organisation said more than six million social media posts sent to current and former footballers from the Premier League, English Football League and Women's Super League were monitored. It reported 1,781 posts from 1,674 accounts to Twitter for sanctioning.

It also said there was a 48% increase in unmoderated racist online abuse in the second half of last season.

The report also found:

  • 44% of Premier League players received discriminatory abuse.
  • 50% of abusive tweets came from UK accounts.
  • 75% of 359 accounts that sent explicitly racist abuse to players were still on the platform as recently as last month.
  • 20% of all detected abuse was directed at just four players.
  • 33% of all abusive posts contained homophobic content.
  • 1,781 offensive tweets reported to Twitter for removal.
  • 10 accounts were deemed to have passed the criminal threshold reported to police.

The report suggests platforms are "concentrating on removing individual, offensive posts instead of holding those who write them accountable".

The PFA has presented a copy of its report to Twitter.

In response, Twitter said the report as a whole "does not fairly or fully capture our work or accurately reflect the steps we have taken to improve the health of the conversation and proactively enforce our rules".

"It is our top priority to keep everyone who uses Twitter safe and free from abuse," a Twitter spokesperson said.

"While we have made recent strides in giving people greater control to manage their safety, we know there is still work to be done.

"We have engaged and continue to collaborate with our valued partners in football, to identify ways to tackle this issue collectively.

"We want to reiterate that abusive and hateful conduct has no place on our service and we will continue to take swift action on the minority that try to undermine the conversation for the majority."

Watford captain and PFA players' board representative Troy Deeney said: "Social media companies are huge businesses with the best tech people. If they wanted to find solutions to online abuse, they could. This report shows they are choosing not to.

"When is enough, enough? More must be done to hold these people accountable."

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