English football heads ask Zuckerberg, Dorsey to act on racism

The leaders of English football asked the heads of Facebook and Twitter to take more robust action to help eradicate racism on social media.

players from the Premier League to the Women’s Super League have been targeted with abuse on social media. - GETTY IMAGES (REPRESENTATIVE)

The leaders of English football asked the heads of Facebook and Twitter on Thursday to show “basic human decency” by taking more robust action to eradicate racism and for users’ identities to be verified.

There has been growing outrage that players from the Premier League to the Women’s Super League have been targeted with abuse on Twitter and Facebook-owned Instagram.

“The language used is debasing, often threatening and illegal,” the eight English football leaders, including from the Football Association and Premier League, wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook chairman Mark Zuckerberg.

“It causes distress to the recipients and the vast majority of people who abhor racism, sexism and discrimination of any kind. We have had many meetings with your executives over the years but the reality is your platforms remain havens for abuse. Your inaction has created the belief in the minds of the anonymous perpetrators that they are beyond reach.”

Racism has been targeted online at Manchester United players Marcus Rashford, Axel Tuanzebe, Anthony Martial and Lauren James in recent weeks as well as counterparts from other clubs. “As recent weeks have seen the levels of vicious, offensive abuse from users of your services aimed at footballers and match officials rise even further, we write to ask that for reasons of basic human decency you use the power of your global systems to bring this to an end,” the letter to Dorsey and Zuckerberg continued.

While Instagram said on Wednesday that it would disable accounts that send racism on direct messages, the company later acknowledged that only an unspecified number of repeated abusive messages would lead to a ban.

The football officials wrote, “The targets of abuse should be offered basic protections, and we ask that you accept responsibility for preventing abuse from appearing on your platforms and go further than you have promised to do to date.” The officials ask for messages to be filtered and those containing racist and discriminatory material be blocked from being posted. They also want an improved verification process that ensures users provide accurate identification information and are barred from registering if banned.

“Many footballers in English football receive illegal abuse from accounts all over the world and your companies have the power to bring this to an end,” the letter states.

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The letter was signed by the CEOs of the English Football Association (Mark Bullingham), Premier League (Richard Masters), English Football League (Trevor Birch), Professional Footballers’ Association (Gordon Taylor) and League Managers’ Association (Richard Bevan).

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It was also signed by the managing director of the referees’ body (Mike Riley), the chairman of the anti-racism group Kick It Out (Sanjay Bhandari) and the FA director of the women’s professional game (Kelly Simmons).

“We call for meetings with your organisations to discuss the evidence of abuse on your platforms, the action you are taking, and how you plan to directly address the matters outlined in this letter,” they wrote to Dorsey and Zuckerberg.

Threats of violence on social media have also alarmed English football this week.

'Utterly vile'

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce said he was informed of people wishing him dead on social media.

“When I see the nature of some of it, it’s totally and utterly vile,” Bruce said. “Some of the stuff I’ve had has been obscene. You feel the hatred and something has to be done.” Premier League referee Mike Dean went to the police this week after receiving death threats sent to family social media accounts following red cards he showed to players in matches.

“The abuse I’ve had, death threats and all this sort of stuff,” Bruce said, “When I see the referee become a target for it because he has made a mistake, people threatening his life, it’s absolutely obscene and totally ridiculous.” Facebook and Twitter provided no specific actions on Thursday to address the concerns raised by the football leaders.

“We don’t want hate and racism on our platforms and remove it when we find it,” Facebook’s London media office said in a statement.

Twitter also said it would continue working with organisations like Kick It Out “There is no room for racist abuse on Twitter and we are resolute in our commitment to ensure the football conversation on our service is safe for fans, players and everyone involved in the game,” Twitter said in a statement.

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