By Abi Curran
‘Humanity and social media at its worst’ just about manages to summarise the diatribe of racial abuse targeted towards Marcus Rashford, and other Premier League footballers, within the past week alone.
Rashford, along with teammates Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial, was subject to racist abuse via Facebook owned Instagram following a 0-0 draw with Arsenal on Saturday. Following West Brom’s 5-0 defeat to Manchester City, midfielder Romaine Sawyers also received an appalling racist message after the defeat. Both Greater Manchester Police and West Midlands Police are investigating these separate incidents.
Sadly, this abuse is tragically predictable on social media platforms where a reactionary approach is taken by giants like Facebook and Twitter rather than a preventative one. Social media companies have a duty of care towards sporting professionals, where the targeted abuse is so saturated towards them, and they must be held accountable.
Kick It Out’s Head of Development, Troy Townsend, described racially charged abuse as a ‘merry-go-round’. First, racist abuse reaches players on social media. Following this there is condemnation, statements and discussion. On the surface, this is progressive but the merry-go-round is allowed to continue to loop and no direct action is taken to prevent another string of abuse from reaching players.
This is where social media platforms must step in. Statements of condemnation by Facebook, the FA and the Premier League are futile if players are not protected online. In the past year, more stringent measures have made it easier for users to report racial abuse but this abuse should not be reaching users in the first place.
If racist abuse is allowed to continue online without any serious repercussions (an abusive user may only be banned for a short period) there is a danger that this could continue into stadiums when fans are allowed to return. Actions as well as words need to demonstrate that any form of racism will not be tolerated within the sporting world.
Preventative technology does exist, according to tech organisation Signify, platforms can profile a user who is deemed a potential risk before they have even tried to send abuse. It is vital social media companies invest in this technology to curb a systematic problem not only within football but also globally.
Perhaps incentives need to be introduced for social media companies to take action. If penalties were introduced to platforms for every time an abusive message was reported, they would surely have to prioritise the safety of their users.
Alternatively, star players of the most popular sport in the world could take a stand and leave these platforms until preventative action is taken. Their financial impact on platforms is gargantuan and their absence would be surely felt by the tech giants.
The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden is currently holding round table talks with current and former players in both men’s and women’s football to discuss the issues of racism facing so many players and what can be done to tackle this issue.
An Online Harms bill is expected to be put through Parliament later this year to apply pressure on social media companies to crack down on online abuse. However, it is not yet clear what exactly will be in the bill or when it will be passed.
Kick It Out was founded twenty-eight years ago and it is very much evident that the issues of racism within football are just as prevalent. The only difference now being that abuse is directed from armchairs, computer desks and beds with limited repercussions.
Social media companies have a duty to protect the safety of young black footballers who face racist abuse on a regular basis. The likes of Facebook and Twitter have the power and influence to send a message to the sporting world that racist abuse will not be tolerated in sport or society itself and it is vital that this influence is exercised.
Image: dole777 via Unsplash