Government to make social media companies more accountable after further racist abuse of footballers

Manchester United players Axel Tuanzebe and Lauren James suffered abuse over weekend; FA statement condemned the online racism footballers are facing from "keyboard warriors who hide in a world of impunity", adding it will do "everything we can to stamp discrimination out of the game"

AP:  Axel Tuanzebe and Lauren James
Image: Manchester United's Axel Tuanzebe and Lauren James have been targeted with online racist abuse

The government says it will change the law to make social media companies more accountable for malicious content following another weekend of racist abuse.

Oliver Dowden - the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport - described the abuse targeted at players such as Axel Tuanzebe and Lauren James as "absolutely shocking" and called a meeting to discuss them.

The FA called on the government and social media companies to act quickly in the fight against online racist abuse on Sunday night and MP for Hertsmere Dowden said "enough is enough".

He tweeted: "Online racist abuse of footballers is absolutely shocking and must stop. In advance of this recent spate of cases, I called a meeting to hear first-hand accounts of the daily abuse players receive and the awful toll it takes on them.

"We are going to change the law to make social media companies more accountable for what happens on their platforms and they can start showing their duty of care to players today by weeding out racist abuse now. Players must not be abused for doing their jobs, enough is enough."

Sky Sports News is awaiting comment from Twitter and Facebook to the strongly-worded challenge by the FA on Sunday, in which the governing body said: "Social media companies need to step up and take accountability and action to ban abusers from their platforms, gather evidence that can lead to prosecution and support making their platforms free from this type of abhorrent abuse."

In response to the abuse received by Manchester United defender Tuanzebe, a spokesperson for Facebook, which also owns Instagram and Whatsapp, told Sky Sports News: "There is no place for hate speech on Instagram and we have taken action to remove accounts and comments following the abuse received by Axel Tuanzebe this weekend. We are always working on new ways to tackle racism on Instagram and will have more to share soon."

Manchester United Women forward James, who is the sister of Chelsea right-back Reece, said she was "bored" of the treatment she had suffered and went further on Monday to insist players continue speaking out about the abuse they receive.

preview image 1:37
Kick It Out's Troy Townsend says football players are tired of 'conversations' being held over social media abuse and urged firms to take tougher action

'We have to continue to shout' - Manchester United Women forward Lauren James

"Thank you everyone for their support over the last 24 hours. Unfortunately it's not the first time and won't be the last, but we don't have to just accept it. We have to continue to shout and make a noise until actual actions take place.

"I'm not someone who says a lot, maybe it's because I'm young, maybe it's because it opens you up to further abuse, but I couldn't stay quiet for any longer.

"If we are all together then we can make a difference. To anyone else who receives the same abuse but doesn't speak up, suffers alone, and don't have the people around them that I do, stay strong and know that we are fighting this as one."

Also over the weekend, Avon and Somerset Police launched an investigation into Bristol Rovers defender Mark Little being sent monkey emojis on Instagram, and referee Mike Dean and his family were sent death threats online.

On Monday, Chelsea welcomed the arrest of a 21-year-old from Retford under the Malicious Communications Act, over a number of Hate Crime messages across a number of months in 2020.

Last week, Brighton striker Aaron Connolly removed all of his social media accounts after receiving abuse following his performance against Tottenham, in which he missed a goal-scoring chance.

FIFPro seeks global interventions against racist abuse on social media

Also on Monday, world players' union FIFPro called on public institutions to urgently implement effective protections against racial abuse and hate-speech on social media.

It said platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram form an integral part of the professional lives of footballers and other athletes, but they "have failed to address abusive behaviour in a strong and unequivocal manner".

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Independent social media expert Toby Beresford says the key problem for platforms is they do not know the identity of their users, which makes it difficult to refer those posting abusive messages to the police

A statement said "more than 40 per cent of players in England are victims of targeted racist attacks online".

Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, FIFPRO's general secretary, said footballers will continue to receive support in calling out "the lack of care and adequate protection provided by social media companies".

Baer-Hoffmann said: "We now urgently need both national and international authorities to step in and collaborate to make these companies clean up their platforms and remove the stream of abhorrent discrimination that continues to contaminate both public channels and personal lives on every continent.

"FIFPRO and our fellow player unions will continue to actively provide evidence to public institutions on this issue on behalf of our members.

"At the same time, we are willing to provide any support necessary to assist social media companies in order to make their platforms a safe environment for both players and the general public."

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Kick It Out reporting racism

Online Reporting Form | Kick It Out

Kick It Out is football's equality and inclusion organisation - working throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and campaign for positive change.

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