Online Bullying And Racist Abuse In Football: How Can We Stop It?

It seems that every single day there’s another horrifying story of a high-profile Sportsman or Woman receiving horrendous abuse online, usually via the major social media platforms of Twitter and Instagram (the latter of which is owned by Facebook).

While the hate is disproportionately aimed at black and BAME footballers, and I’m going to come back to the racial hatred online within this article, it’s also being aimed at white players and managers on the football pitches.

It does appear to be disproportionately a football problem too, a carry over of the ‘bad old days’ of negative, hateful, chants on the terraces; and surely it’s long past time for the footballing authorities and the social media platforms to stand together and say that enough is enough.

There’s a certain type of coward – and they are all cowards – who is very, very brave behind an anonymous social media account and keyboard, knowing they will rarely be identified and held to account, and that even if they are found they are unlikely to be prosecuted or jailed.

With England Men’s team in action for the World Cup right now, it’s surely a matter of time before there’s a disproportionate attack on the black players in the team for their perceived ‘fault’ at a disappointing result, or, as was the case at the Euros last year, a penalty miss.

We’ve allowed an entirely unpoliced, unmonitored, free to use, form of communication to flourish worldwide allowing us unprecedented contact with each other – and with previously unavailable celebrities. And for all the good it’s done – without social media normalising discussions around mental health struggles, for example, that would still be a stigma and many people would be suffering in silence – it’s done some really bad things too.

Abuse, and hatred, particularly racially motivated hatred, have become almost normal – and all centred around football and football performances. Young black footballers know that, whether they play well or badly on a Saturday, by Saturday night their social media will be full of abuse: we can’t surely be saying that’s okay?

4 Things Need To Happen To Control & Stop This Abuse

1) It needs to be an actual criminal offence to send hateful, abusive, or racially motivated messages via your social media account to another person online. Increasing levels of punishment (which absolutely have to be jail sentences) for people who repeatedly or constantly do this.

2) The police need to then take these matters seriously, investigate thoroughly, and sentences need to be handed out in court rather than allowing people to get away with it (as in the teenager who didn’t get jail time or even any significant punishment for abusing Ian Wright).

3) The social media companies MUST insist on ID, Name, and Address details before you can have an account. That one, simple, step would stop in excess of 90% of the abuse – and yet the social media platforms refuse to implement it because it would cost them millions of users and therefore hundreds of millions of advertising revenue.

4) The governments of the World have to make it so expensive to not implement number 2, that the social media companies prefer it to the fines/increased taxes that governments insist they pay. The simple act of classing them as broadcasters, not platforms, will force them to act immediately or pay potentially hundreds of millions in fines. 

But will the government here, and in other countries, step up and do what needs to be done? So long as the owners of the social media platforms keep donating to the right political party, and then keep showing the right kind of adverts and influencing the voters to vote the right way and keep their chosen political party in power, it seems like they might just continue to get away with it.

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