Racism in Football: The Rise of Social Media Abuse
Authored by the team ‘Hydra’: Keeley Whittle, John Lees, Charlie Norton, Dean Spencer, Alisha Stark, and Paul Storey [E119 22J students].
This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor, and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from 27 blogs that were produced in January 2023.
The 2020 EUFA European Football Championship, held in 2021, was the first time England’s men’s senior team would reach a major tournament final in 55 years since their World Cup victory at Wembley in 1966. Although they would go on to lose on penalties to the tournament winners Italy – this achievement should have been a celebration of how well Southgate’s team performed. Unfortunately, this was overshadowed by vicious attacks on social media against the three black players who missed their penalties. This is just one of the examples in recent memory of the racism and abuse that black players receive daily from faceless trolls on social media.
The Rise of Abuse
Even before the rise of social media, racism in football was nothing new. In 1993 the ‘Kick it Out’ campaign was set up to try and fight against discrimination in sport. They run programmes alongside campaigns to ensure football is always welcoming to everyone – both online and offline. Despite the best efforts made, racist abuse in English football is rising.
Photo by Thomas Serer on Unsplash
Per a study conducted by The Alan Turing Institute (Ofcom, 2022) 2.3 million tweets were directed at Premier League footballers in the first 5 months of the 21-22 season. Although only 3.5%, over 80 thousand, of these were deemed as abusive – that is still a large number in total that is creating a serious risk of harm to the players – especially when you consider that 50% of these abusive social media attacks were aimed at a very small proportion of Premier League players.
This was also reflected in published summaries made to ‘Kick it Out’, with a staggering 54% of those reports relating to racism. (Kick it out, 2022)
Is Social Media football’s issue to solve?
However, the question is raised whether the football associations can successfully tackle racism on social media platforms themselves, as they have little power or influence in the realm of the Tech Giants. As where racial abuse is seen and reported, it is the social media platforms that need to act.
Many clubs have stated they want better regulation of social media so that there is “swifter removal of offensive messages and improved identification and banning of offenders”. In 2021, English football announced a social media boycott, in which all players and clubs would switch off their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, in response to the ongoing discriminatory abuse received by players, knowing that although it will not stop the abuse from occurring – it demonstrates that they are willing to take proactive steps against the abuse (Premier League, 2021).
Has there been any change?
Online offences have only ever been covered by the Communications Offences Legislation, mainly through the Protection and Harassment Act 1997 and the Malicious Communications Act 1988 (Legislation.gov.uk 2023). In 2022, it was announced that an update to the ‘Online Safety Bill’ was to be made, and that hate crime will now be written on the face of the Bill as a priority illegal offence. This means that social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, would be forced to proactively identify and remove abusive content, as opposed to other users reporting the comments. This bill will also include criminalising threatening behaviour by creating new online offences. This means that it would give the police more powers to convict online offenders (The FA, 2022)
However, as of this writing, the bill has not yet passed the House of Lords (UK Parliament, 2022)
Although this bill is yet to pass, convictions of users committing online abuse are beginning to be seen. In 2021, a 43-year-old Cheshire man was sentenced for racial abuse against England Players after the Euro 2020 (Sky, 2021) with his only defence being he wanted to “make people laugh” and didn’t believe his comments would be considered racist.
Photo by Connor Coyne on Unsplash
What can we do?
As users of social media platforms, there are several small ways we can help tackle online racism. Not only should we report any abusive comments we see to social media platforms to get them removed, but also to charities such as Kick it out who create statistics that can be used as strong evidence to show the Government that changes need to be implemented and push for the Online Safety Bill to be completed.
It goes without saying that a large majority of online fans will have seen numerous campaigns from online abuse charities, such as ‘Kick it out’ and ‘Unite against racism’ and have been educated on the harms of online abuse. However, this just means they know just how vile their comments are, and it emboldens them to continue as they know they are inciting reactions. Until the threat of real punishment becomes a reality with the Online Safety Bill these trolls are unlikely to change their ways.
Kick It Out (2023) Kick it out: Reporting statistics. [Online] https://www.kickitout.org/reporting-statistics (Accessed on 21st January 2023)
Legislation.gov.uk (2023), ‘The National Archives’ https://www.legislation.gov.uk/primary+secondary/1988?title=communications (Accessed on 21st January 2023)
Ofcom (2022) Ofcom: Tracking twitter abuse against online players. [PDF] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/242218/2021-22-tracking-twitter-abuse-against-premier-league-players.pdf (Accessed on 21st January 2023)
Premier League (2021) English football announces social media boycott. [Online] https://www.premierleague.com/news/2116111 (Accessed on 21st January 2023)
Sky News (2021) Cheshire man sentenced for racist abuse of England players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka after Euro 2020 final [online] https://news.sky.com/story/cheshire-man-sentenced-for-racist-abuse-of-england-players-marcus-rashford-jadon-sancho-and-bukayo-saka-after-euro-2020-final-12402403 (Accessed on 21st January 2023)
Sky News (2022) Teenager jailed for sending racist tweet to Marcus Rashford after Euro 2020 final [online] https://news.sky.com/story/teenager-jailed-for-sending-racist-tweet-to-marcus-rashford-after-euro-2020-final-12578310 (Accessed on 21st January 2023)
The FA (2022) The FA and Kick It Out have welcomes an update to the online safety bill (Accessed on 21st January 2023)
UK Parliament (2023) Parliamentary Bills: Online Safety Bill [Online] https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3137 (Accessed on 23rd January 2023)