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Government “Abdicating Responsibility” to Tackle Online Abuse

Ross Kelly


online racist abuse
Social media firms and the government have been urged to do more to tackle online abuse.

The government has been accused of failing to tackle online racist abuse in the wake of the Euro 2020 final.

After England’s loss to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 final, several players including Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho were targeted by a torrent of abuse on social media after missing their spot-kicks.

In a statement yesterday, the FA strongly condemned the abuse and called on tough punishments for anyone found responsible for posting abusive content.

“We strongly condemn all forms of discrimination and are appalled by the online racism that has been aimed at some of our England players on social media,” a spokesperson said.

“We could not be clearer that anyone behind such disgusting behaviour is not welcome in following the team,” they added.

Widespread condemnation

While racist posts have been met with widespread condemnation across social media, attention has turned toward the platforms which some argue are failing to tackle the issue.

In its statement, the FA said social media companies “need to step up and take accountability and action to ban abusers from their platforms”.

The association also called on social media sites to “gather evidence” which can lead to prosecutions.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate said the racist abuse directed at England players comes as a “direct result of Big Tech’s collective failure” to tackle hate speech in recent years.

“This culture of impunity exists because these firms refuse to take decisive action and impose any real consequences on those who spew hatred on their platforms,” the Center said.

Both Twitter and Facebook have acted against the relentless abuse directed toward England players.

“In the past 24 hours, through a combination of machine learning-based automation and human review, we have swiftly removed over 1,000 Tweets and permanently suspended a number of accounts for violating our rules,” Twitter said on Monday.

A spokesperson for Facebook, which also owns Instagram, said the firm “quickly removed comments and accounts directing abuse at England’s footballers” and vowed to continue cracking down on accounts that break rules on abuse.

The social media firm also urged users to use tools aimed at stopping abuse, including its ‘Hidden Words’ filter.


Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden took to Twitter to condemn the abuse on Monday morning, insisting that the proposed Online Safety Bill could play a role in forcing social media companies to act.

Once introduced, the Online Safety Bill would oblige social media companies to tackle harmful content online, with Ofcom enforcing the legislation.

“I share the anger at appalling racist abuse of our heroic players,” he said. “Social media companies need to up their game in addressing it and, if they fail to, our new Online Safety Bill will hold them to account with fines of up to 10% global revenue.”

Privacy rights campaigners Open Rights Group criticised the government for its lack of action, however.

In a statement yesterday, ORG policy rights manager Heather Burns said racist abuse sent to England footballers “must be prosecuted under existing laws”.

Burns also accused the government of “abdicating their responsibility” to tackle online abuse by placing the onus on social media firms.

“Online abuse is not anonymous. Virtually all of the current wave of abuse is immediately traceable to the individuals who shared it, and social media platforms can hand details to law enforcement,” she said.

“Government cannot pretend that this problem is not their responsibility. Calls for social media platforms to take material down miss the point, and let criminals off the hook.”

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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