Manchester United players Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Axel Tuanzebe (twice) and Loren James, as well as West Bromwich Albion’s Romain Sawyers, Chelsea’s Rees James and Southampton’s Alex Jankiewicz have all been victims of online racist abuse in recent weeks.
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Premier League referee Mike Dean has also received death threats on social media and has asked not to attend matches this weekend.
In response, the English Football League (EFL), the Women’s Professional Football Association (PFA), the Professional Matchmaking Council (PGMOL) and Kick It Out wrote a letter to Twitter on Thursday, asking Jack Dorsey and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to take action.
As the number of cruel and gross abuses by users of your services against footballers and match officials has continued to increase in recent weeks, we are writing to ask you, in the name of basic human decency, to use the power of your global systems to put an end to this, the letter says.
The language used is offensive, often threatening and illegal. It is harmful to beneficiaries and to the vast majority of people who hate racism, sexism and discrimination of any kind.
We have had many meetings with your executives over the years, but the reality is that your platforms remain havens for abuse. Their passivity has created a belief among anonymous criminals that they are unreachable.
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– Les Ferdinand
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The incessant stream of racist and discriminatory messages feeds itself: The more it is tolerated by Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, platforms with billions of users, the more it becomes a normal and accepted behavior.
The letter also calls on the platforms to block messages before they are sent if they contain racist or discriminatory material, remove offensive material when it is released, introduce an improved verification process for all users, and actively help investigators track down perpetrators of illegal discriminatory material.
Many English footballers are illegally abused from accounts around the world and your companies have the right to pursue this, he continued.
We welcome comments on Twitter from 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 that they should start today to show their duty of care to players by removing racist abuse.
Players, match officials, managers and coaches of all backgrounds and levels must be able to participate in the game without unauthorized violence. We, those responsible for English football, will do everything in our power to protect them, but we cannot succeed until you allow the criminals to remain anonymous.
Fadzai Madzingira, Facebook’s head of content policy, on Wednesday expressed disgust at the rise in cases of abuse against footballers. United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton have also joined in condemning racist comments on the internet.
The Premier League on Tuesday announced a plan to eradicate racial prejudice and create more opportunities for ethnic minorities in football. One area that deserves particular attention is facilitating the online reporting of abuse.