English football bodies have come together to send an open letter to Facebook and Twitter demanding action amid increased levels of abuse aimed at footballers and officials on social media.
The Premier League, FA, EFL, WSL, Women's Championship, PFA, LMA, PGMOL and Kick It Out have all co-signed the letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook founder, chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerburg, asking them "for reasons of basic human decency" to use the power of their systems to end the abuse.
High-profile players in both the men's and women's game have been victims of racist abuse on social media in recent weeks, while Premier League referee Mike Dean was subjected to death threats following a controversial decision over the weekend.
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Football calls for social media platforms to take action against online abuse.— Premier League (@premierleague) February 11, 2021
✍ Premier League
There is #NoRoomForRacism ➡️ https://t.co/63n2Cdmebm pic.twitter.com/4FIMFD43iQ
Facebook-owned Instagram announced new measures, including the removal of accounts to prevent abusive messages on its platform and developing new controls to help reduce the abuse people see.
The letter from football's governing bodies 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."
Football authorities request to Facebook and Twitter:
- Messages and posts should be filtered and blocked before being sent or posted if they contain racist or discriminatory material
- You should operate robust, transparent, and swift measures to take down abusive material if it does get into circulation
- All users should be subject to an improved verification process that (only if required by law enforcement) allows for accurate identification of the person behind the account. Steps should also be taken to stop a user that has sent abuse previously from re-registering an account
- Our platforms should actively and expeditiously assist the investigating authorities in identifying the originators of illegal discriminatory material
The letter was signed by FA chief executive Mark Bullingham, his counterparts at the Premier League and the EFL, Richard Masters and Trevor Birch, the director of the women's professional game Kelly Simmons, Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor, League Managers Association chief executive Richard Bevan, referees' chief Mike Riley and Kick It Out chair Sanjay Bhandari.
It comes in the wake of weeks of vile abuse directed at players across the men's and women's professional game.
Manchester United players Marcus Rashford, Axel Tuanzebe, Anthony Martial and Lauren James are among those who have been the targets of social media abuse, along with West Brom's Romaine Sawyers and Chelsea defender Reece James, Lauren James' brother.
We cannot succeed until you change the ability of offenders to remain anonymous
The letter urges Facebook and Twitter to ensure no user is "hounded off" their platforms because of their gender or the colour of their skin.
It calls on the platforms to put in place mechanisms that filter or block posts containing racist or discriminatory material, operate "robust, transparent and swift" measures to take down any material which does get into circulation and ensure users are subject to an improved verification process so that they can be accurately identified.
"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."
Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said on Wednesday: "We're introducing a new age of accountability for these (social media) companies through our upcoming Online Safety Bill and this could see huge fines for firms which fail to clearly and transparently protect their users."
In response to the letter from English football's bodies, a Facebook company 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 (direct messages), 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."
Twitter released a statement in response to the football bodies' open letter which read: "There is no room for racist abuse on Twitter and we are resolute in our commitment to ensure the football conversation on our service is safe for fans, players and everyone involved in the game.
"We strongly condemn this behaviour, which does not reflect the vast majority of fans who use Twitter to participate in the vibrant conversations around football in the UK. We will continue to take swift action on the minority that try to undermine the conversation for the majority.
"We also continue to work closely with valued partners in the football community and through the football working group convened by Kick It Out we will collaborate and identify ways to tackle this unacceptable behaviour - both online and offline."
According to Twitter's latest Transparency Report, there was a 95 per cent increase in the number of accounts facing action over breaches of the platform's abuse policy.
Twitter has also given users greater control over their conversations including allowing users to choose who can reply to conversations they start.
'We need legal responsibility for social media platforms'
Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Digital, says the government needs to put in legislation that makes social media companies legally responsible if racist abuse is continually distributed on their platforms.
She also called for legislation around online abuse to be closer aligned to existing hate crime laws.
"I remember two years ago when there was racist abuse towards Raheem Sterling and Danny Rose, and there were promises to address that. For anyone to say they are surprised this is happening is totally ridiculous. It is well past time to take action," she told Sky Sports News.
"I asked the minister responsible, Caroline Dinenage, what has been done to protect us online? Nothing has been done. Charities like Kick It Out, footballers, football clubs have all done a lot of work in this area. We find that what is holding us back is the lack of action from government, social media companies, and institutions like UEFA who do not do enough.
"If someone on the street makes a racist comment, they can be reported and identified. Social media companies amplify it, distribute it, they make it much more visible. These companies have greater resources than most companies on the planet. What we need to see is legal responsibility and accountability. We need the government to put in legislation that brings that.
"If you suffer from racism on the platform and you are not a Premier League footballer, or a politician like myself, you will be lucky if they even respond to you."
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