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Raheem Sterling calls for action to tackle online abuse after PFA Charity study



Football authorities and social media platforms “need to step up, show real leadership and take proper action in tackling online abuse”, says Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling.

It follows a study by the professional footballers’ association (PFA).

It said 43% of Premier League players experienced “targeted racist abuse”.

“The technology is there to make a difference, but I’m increasingly questioning if there is the will,” said England international Sterling.

The research, by the PFA Charity and data science company Signify Group, used machine learning systems to analyse messages sent publicly via Twitter to 44 high-profile current and former players.

During the final six weeks of the Premier League season, Signify analysed 825,515 tweets and identified “over 3,000 explicitly abusive messages”, it said 56% of all the discriminatory abuse identified was racist. 

It found 43% of Premier League players in the study experienced targeted and explicitly racist abuse, 29% of racially abusive posts came in emoji form and 50% of the total online abuse recorded was received by just three players, who called out racial abuse during that period.

“This report confirms what we have known for a while – that social media can be a battleground of hate with few consequences for abusers,” said Sanjay Bhandari, chair at anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out.

“We need government, law enforcement, the leagues and clubs to commit to working together to fill in those cracks in the enforcement system. We need better government regulation and improved sharing of data and intelligence to scratch below the surface, in order to understand and address root causes.

“Crucially, we need fans and social media organisations to be part of the solution. This is a behavioural and technological problem. We need behavioural and technological solutions.”

The PFA Charity is calling for a change in the way online abuse is handled, so that it is not reliant on victim complaints or platform intervention. 

The Charity says it “will be calling on football’s stakeholders and clubs to adopt a centralised system that collates and submits relevant evidence to the police and highlights any possible action within the game”.

It has called on authorities to adopt the following measures:

  • Proactive monitoring of social media platforms, adding “football’s stakeholders and clubs should now work together and fund a centralised AI driven system to proactively monitor abusive users across social media platforms”.
  • Apply offline consequence for online actions: aim to identify abusive users, and then pursue real-world consequences including prosecutions, stadium bans, suspensions within amateur and grassroots football
  • Evidence led pressure on social media platforms: to gain commitment towards more proactive interventions for abusive posts and for stronger measures to be taken against abusive users.
  • Call on social media platforms to address abusive emojis: greater use of monitoring and technology to address the use of emojis as a form of abuse.

Simone Pound, head of equalities at the PFA added: “Online abuse is a problem that will not go away without concerted action by the government, football authorities and social media platforms. 

“Social media companies must do more to address abuse on their channels and not consider it an expected experience.”