October 22, 2021

Duke of Cambridge: Racist abuse must stop now

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The Duke of Cambridge has branded the racist abuse directed at footballers “despicable” and said it “must stop now” after Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford became the latest player targeted.

William, who is the president of the Football Association, spoke out on Sunday night after the Professional Footballers’ Association accused social media companies of lacking the willingness to clamp down on racist posts.

Chelsea defender Reece James, West Brom’s Romaine Sawyers and Rashford’s team-mates Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial all suffered online racist abuse this week.

Rashford was then targeted after United’s 0-0 draw at Arsenal on Saturday evening, prompting an investigation from Greater Manchester Police and placing further scrutiny on social media platforms as the UK Government plans to introduce new laws on online abuse in 2021.

The Duke of Cambridge tweeted: “Racist abuse – whether on the pitch, in the stands, or on social media – is despicable and it must stop now.

“We all have a responsibility to create an environment where such abuse is not tolerated, and those who choose to spread hate and division are held accountable for their actions. That responsibility extends to the platforms where so much of this activity now takes place.

“I commend all those players, supporters, clubs and organisations who continue to call out and condemn this abuse in the strongest terms.”

Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial were racially abused on social media after Manchester United's 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United 1:38
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has called for social media platforms to take action against anonymous accounts in the wake of the racist abuse posted to Manchester United players Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial earlier this week

The PFA called on social networks to demonstrate they are truly committed to tackling a problem it says has been “at crisis point” for two years.

“We have been very clear that social media platforms are an extension of a professional footballer’s workplace,” the PFA said in a statement.

“Every effort must be taken to protect them – and all other users – from racist abuse while using social media. Offline consequences for online hate crimes must be pursued whenever possible.

“Enough time has been given to the networks to demonstrate a willingness to act. We have been at crisis point with this issue for two years. Racism causes trauma and online abuse presents a significant risk to people’s mental health and well-being.

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“During our initial meetings with the social networks, they advised us that players could block content that they find offensive. We do not believe the onus should be on an individual to manage the racism they receive.

“With the scale of racist abuse happening on their platforms, we are publicly asking why Twitter, Facebook and Instagram will not prevent users from being able to send explicitly racist terms and emojis? There is no context in which
some words are acceptable.

“These steps won’t banish all racist abuse, but it would be a start, demonstrating that the platforms value the diverse membership of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram’s communities. While racist abuse is allowed to continue on each platform, we can only conclude that this is a choice by the companies running the social networks.”

A spokesperson for Facebook, who own Instagram, told Sky Sports News: “There is no place for racism on Instagram and we are committed to removing it when we find it.

“We have taken action in this case by removing accounts and comments and are continuing to investigate.

“We know there is more to do and we will continue to work closely with clubs, players and football authorities to investigate instances of discrimination and collectively tackle this issue.”

A Twitter spokesperson said they have clear policies on abusive behaviour and hateful conduct and take action when they identify violations.

In a statement, Twitter added: “Racist behaviour has no place on our service and when we identify accounts that violate any of the Twitter Rules, we take enforcement action.”

Manchester United director of communications Charlie Brooks says the club have had encouraging talks with social media companies but insists more must be done to tackle online racism

Iffy Onuora, the 53-year-old former Gillingham and Huddersfield striker who is set to become the Premier League’s first head of equality, diversity and inclusion, also called on social media companies to act faster to remove abusive content.

Onuora told the PA news agency: “A lot of this is now down to the responsibility of the social media companies.

“In my opinion, they’ve been far too slow to take down harmful material, not just in terms of the abuse that footballers have suffered but abuse generally. There is technology out there that can protect this a lot quicker than they’ve been minded to move.

“The devil’s in the detail but that has started to come now, and the Government pressure from above will be far greater on social media companies to take action promptly.”

Kick It Out chair Sanjay Bhandari says they are working to ‘call people to account’ following a number of recent incidents of racist abuse online, which have become ‘depressingly familiar’

Greater Manchester Police said a number of abusive comments directed at United players had been reported and the force would be “investigating these crimes thoroughly”.

“Nobody should be subject to such abuse and it is deeply upsetting not only to those that suffer it, but to all those who come across this awful language too,” GMP said in a statement. “These hateful words have no place anywhere in our society whether online or otherwise.”

Rashford branded the racist abuse “humanity and social media at its worst”.

He added on Twitter on Saturday night: “Yes I’m a black man and I live every day proud that I am.

“No one, or no one comment, is going to make me feel any different. So sorry if you were looking for a strong reaction, you’re just simply not going to get it here. I’m not sharing screenshots. It would be irresponsible to do so and as you can imagine there’s nothing original in them.”

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Kick It Out is football’s equality and inclusion organisation – working throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and campaign for positive change.