Online abuse in football: “The dark side of the beautiful game”

Analysis of more than two million Twitter posts has revealed the extent of online abuse against Premier League footballers. A report released by media regulator Ofcom and the Alan Turing Institute found that of the 2.3 million tweets sent in the first half of the 2021-2022 season, more than 60,000 were abusive.

During that period, an average of 362 abusive tweets were sent each day, equivalent to “one every four minutes”, Ofcom said. Seven out of 10 Premier League stars were affected and 12 specific players faced “a barrage of abuse” – each receiving an average of 15 abusive tweets a day. About one in twelve personal attacks were directed against protected characteristics of a victim, such as e.g. B. his race or his sex.

Of the footballers addressed on Twitter, eight of the top ten played for Manchester United at the time. Cristiano Ronaldo received the most abusive tweets (12,520), followed by Harry Maguire (8,954) and Marcus Rashford (2,557). Tottenham striker Harry Kane and Manchester City’s Jack Grealish are also on the list.

These results “shed light on a darker side of the beautiful game,” said Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s group leader for broadcast and online content. Online abuse has “no place in sport, nor in wider society”.

player association Number of abusive tweets Percentage of abusive tweets
Cristiano Ronaldo Man Utd 12,520 2.2%
Harry Maguire Man Utd 8,954 14.9%
Marcus Rashford Man Utd 2,557 2.6%
Bruno Fernandes Man Utd 2,464 3%
Harry Kane Tottenham 2.127 5.3%
fred Man Utd 1,924 7.6%
Jess Lingard Man Utd 1,605 3.2%
Jack Grealish man city 1,538 4.4%
Paul Pogba Man Utd 1,446 3.3%
David deGaa Man Utd 1,394 2.1%

Source: Ofcom/The Alan Turing Institute

A year after the euro shame

The study took place after the Uefa European Championship for men. Last July, England lost to Italy on penalties at Wembley and three players – Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka – were racially abused online after missing their penalties.

There was “a lot of discussion about the role that anonymous accounts played” in the post-Euro abuse, Sky News said. However, Twitter responded, saying that the UK was “by far” the biggest source of racist slurs sent to English footballers. The social media company added that 99% of accounts banned for abuse were not anonymous.

Last year, the football world held a four-day social media lockdown in protest at the abuse, The Mirror said. More than a year after the euro shaming, the study has highlighted the “true extent of the barrage of offensive news that high-profile stars are being subjected to”.

Troubleshooting: What next?

Sanjay Bhandari, chairman of football’s anti-discrimination organization Kick It Out, warned last month that sport must not become complacent in dealing with online abuse. While there has been some success for social media companies in tackling the problem, Bhandari said the threat is constantly evolving. The abuse was “mutating,” he told the Press Association. With many more audio messages, video messages, and other types of content being posted, “new threats” are emerging, “so we can’t rest on our laurels.” There will be no “permanent changes” unless there are “legal obligations for social media companies.”

Bhandari said the organization “strongly” supports the online security bill, which is expected to be presented to the lower house before the fall. The bill will “likely introduce rules for websites and apps such as social media, search engines and messaging platforms and other services that people use to share content online,” the Daily Mail said.

Ofcom is appointed regulator of the online safety regime, but Bakhurst said social media companies “don’t have to wait for new laws” to make their websites and apps safer for users. Tech companies need to be “really open about the steps they’re taking to protect users,” he added. “We expect them to make their services security-centric.” Tackling the problem requires “a team effort.”

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