Is football’s racism battle being lost on social media?

Manchester United and Sheffield United kneel for final Premier League match at Old Trafford – Manchester United’s Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial have been the victims of racist violence after the match.

As for racial abuse online, football seems to have had enough. One more time.

A string of incidents over the past week has led to a wave of condemnations across the game and beyond.

And yet this comes nearly two years after the big stars took part in a campaign called #Enough, a 24-hour boycott via social media to protest a similar wave of abuse.

Today’s technology platforms must meet the same requirements to do more. So the battle is lost? Why is it so difficult to solve this problem? And where is this crisis going?

It is time to take responsibility

The pressure on social media platforms is increasing. The appetite for more regulation is growing.

Last week, the Premier League said technology companies must do more and called for faster removal of offensive posts and better identification and blocking of offenders.

Manchester United, which includes three people who were exposed to these nasty messages, has asked for verifiable and identifiable accounts so the perpetrators can be caught. They and the players have had enough and have come to the conclusion that no one in the workplace should have to deal with such hateful insults.

The Duke of Cambridge, who is also chairman of the Football Association, wants social media companies to take more responsibility.

The Duke of Cambridge, who is also president of the Football Association, praised those who have spoken out and called for an end to these appalling abuses.

In his Twitter post, Prince William also pointed out that social media companies need to improve their work.

We all have a responsibility to create an environment where such abuses are not tolerated and where those who sow hatred and discord are held accountable for their actions. This responsibility extends to the platforms where much of this activity currently takes place, he said.

The Professional Football Players’ Association, which represents players, has asked the technology giants to prevent users from sending explicitly racist terms and emojis. As long as racial abuse is allowed on any platform, we can only conclude that it is the decision of the companies that run social media sites, he said.

It is not easy to bring this kind of criticism to the platforms. We have already requested an interview on this topic on Twitter in 2019. We’re still waiting for it.

Last week, our request for an interview with the owner of Instagram, Facebook, was met with a brief message: Racism has no place on Instagram, and we are determined to remove it as soon as we find it. We know that there is still work to be done and we will continue to work closely with clubs, players and football authorities to investigate discrimination and tackle the problem together.

Twitter also issued a statement: Racist behavior has no place on our service, and when we identify accounts that violate any of the Twitter rules, we take enforcement action.

We have actively worked with our valued football partners to find a joint solution to this problem and we will continue to do our part to curb this unacceptable behaviour, both online and offline.

Social media companies are not vigilant enough – Wright and Janas react after Rashford is targeted in racist violence

New legislation

Meanwhile, the government has promised to introduce a landmark internet harm bill this year to make technology companies legally responsible for the safety of their online users and to hold them accountable to the regulator Ofcomexternal-link for content containing offensive language.

Racist posts should be deleted immediately. The proposals threaten huge fines, up to 10% of global turnover, if companies fail to meet their obligations, and there may even be criminal penalties for senior managers.

Behind the scenes, I have been told that while the football authorities have been encouraged by a recent meeting of Oliver Dowden, Minister for Culture, with the players to talk about online abuse, there are concerns about the time it will take to introduce new laws that are considered overdue and could be circumvented if giant US technology companies find their way in and threaten to take their money elsewhere.

But according to Sanjay Bhandari, executive director of Kick It Outeernal-link, the legislation – and President Joe Biden’s promise to regulate more in the United States – is cause for optimism.

The cavalry is on its way, said the head of the anti-discrimination agency.

There is hope on the horizon, but it cannot come soon enough, which is why we need social media now. Behavioral and cultural problems take more time to resolve. It’s a technological problem that we can solve faster, and all the answers can be found on Twitter and Facebook. For 25 years the technology was unregulated, and at some point we filled that gap.


Marcus Rashford played in Manchester United’s 0-0 draw at Arsenal on Saturday.

Some members of the Premier League, which last year introduced a special quick response system for players, say social media platforms have improved in recent years, but not enough. The referrals have been successful, but officials want to do more to help authorities find the perpetrators so clubs can ban them (if they are fans) or even prosecute them.

While some prosecutions have been successful – an Irish teenager will be sentenced on Wednesday for sending racist remarks to former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright – such cases are rare given the scale of the abuse.

An insider said honorary league officials feel embarrassed by what they call unreachable and irresponsible technology companies, citing privacy, freedom of speech and volume of traffic as reasons for withholding information that would help identify criminals. The fear is that the police – who do not have the resources to prosecute all possible crimes – will only act in the most serious cases, and that the perpetrators will know that they are in no danger of being punished. For the platform to cooperate, court orders must be obtained, evidence must be collected, and often the perpetrators are located abroad in different jurisdictions.

Another challenge is to convince the actors to take legal action, which often seems a daunting prospect.

A man has been arrested following an allegation of racist insults against West Bromwich Albion midfielder Romain Sawyers.

Protection of important technologies

Facebook acknowledges that there is still work to be done, but points out that it is working with Kick It Out to educate and report fans of the initiative, and has developed tools to prevent unwanted contact on Instagram. It has also tripled the size of its security team to 35,000 and claims to have taken proactive measures to combat tens of millions of instances of hate speech last year. But given the enormous wealth of these companies, many feel that more should be invested.

Technology companies say the solution to this problem is not as simple as many think. They have other areas that also need to be monitored on their vast unregulated platforms; from suspicion of terrorism and pedophilia to the dissemination of misinformation.

Merely blocking certain discriminatory words or emoticons is problematic because they can also be used in non-violent contexts and have different meanings within global platforms in different communities or areas. Companies can block devices from repeat offenders, but that person can just use another device.

Many are now calling for an end to the anonymity associated with a mandatory authentication process, which means that users, for example. B. Passport information must be provided before opening an account, which is a shield for many attackers. However, given the distrust of the use of personal data on social media, there are concerns that this could threaten activists, whistleblowers and persecuted minorities who need to protect their identities online.

Many have also noted that offensive racist comments have been published on fully monitored social media accounts in recent years.

Can football do more?

Axel Tuanzebe (left) and Anthony Marial (centre) were victims of racist violence after their part in Manchester United’s defeat.

Some also believe that it is time for the authorities and football clubs to invest more and relieve the players of their responsibilities.

The problem is that existing systems require players to receive and then report abuse themselves. At this point, the harm has been done, said Jonathan Hirschler, CEO of Signify, a company that collects data and uses artificial intelligence to identify abusers.

This technology, which uses AI and open-source data, can unmask devious and prolific attackers.

It is also important that football shifts from a reactive to a proactive approach, detecting abuses before players are forced into them and presenting the evidence in such a way that social platforms and the authorities have little choice but to act. So we need a new approach that works constructively with platforms, so that attackers have nowhere to hide.

There’s no time to lose. In the last six weeks of last season alone, a joint investigation by the PFA and Signify uncovered more than 3,000 openly offensive comments about Premier League players, 56 per cent of which were racist. Of the players surveyed, 43% said they had experienced targeted racial violence.

Football has become a lightning rod for a broader social problem. The scale of the problem facing sport is considerable and appears to be growing. However, finding a solution is anything but easy.

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