Prem, FA write to Twitter, Facebook over abuse

The Premier League and the English Football Association (FA) have joined forces with other footballing bodies to write to social media companies after a rise in online abuse aimed at footballers on their platforms.

Manchester United players Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Axel Tuanzebe (twice) and Lauren James as well as West Bromwich Albion’s Romaine Sawyers, Chelsea’s Reece James and Southampton’s Alex Jankewitz have been victims of racist abuse online in recent weeks.

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Premier League referee Mike Dean also received death threats on social media and requested not to be involved in any matches this weekend.

As a result, the English Football League (EFL), women’s professional game, Professional Football Association (PFA), Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL) and Kick It Out wrote a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday demanding action.

“As recent weeks have seen the levels of vicious, offensive abuse from users of your services aimed at footballers and match officials rise even further, we write to ask that for reasons of basic human decency you use the power of your global systems to bring this to an end,” the letter said.

“The language used is debasing, often threatening and illegal. It causes distress to the recipients and the vast majority of people who abhor racism, sexism and discrimination of any kind.

“We have had many meetings with your executives over the years but the reality is your platforms remain havens for abuse. Your inaction has created the belief in the minds of the anonymous perpetrators that they are beyond reach.

“The relentless flow of racist and discriminatory messages feeds on itself: the more it is tolerated by Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, platforms with billions of users, the more it becomes normal, accepted behaviour.”

The letter also urged the platforms to block any messages or posts before being sent if they contain racist or discriminatory material, to take down abusive material if it does get into circulation, to include an improved verification process for all users and to actively and assist the investigating authorities in identifying the originators of illegal discriminatory material.

“Many footballers in English football receive illegal abuse from accounts all over the world and your companies have the power to bring this to an end,” it continued.

“We welcome the comments made on Twitter by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, that the UK Government is going to change the law to make social media companies more accountable for what happens on their platforms and they should ‘start showing their duty of care to players today by weeding out racist abuse now.’

“Players, match officials, managers and coaches of any origin and background and at any level of football should be able to participate in the game without having to endure illegal abuse. We, the leaders of the game in English football, will do everything we can to protect them, but we cannot succeed until you change the ability of offenders to remain anonymous.”

In response to the letter, a Facebook spokesperson said: “We don’t want hate and racism on our platforms and remove it when we find it. The new measures we announced yesterday, which include tougher action when we become aware of people breaking our rules in DMs, further build on the work we do to tackle this.

“We are part of the working group convened by Kick it Out and will continue to work alongside all the industry bodies, the police and the Government to help tackle racism both on and offline.”

Facebook head of content policy Fadzai Madzingira told BBC on Wednesday that she was “horrified” to see the rise of abuse aimed at footballers while United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton also joined forces to condemn the racist online comments.

On Tuesday, the Premier League announced it had set in motion a plan to eradicate racial prejudice and create more opportunities for minority ethnic groups in football. Among the areas of focus was making it easier to report online abuse.

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