Racial abuse of footballers on Twitter has increased over the course of the 2020/21 season, and the majority of offensive accounts are still active on the platform, an investigation by the professional football association found.
More than six million tweets were analyzed in a year-long study that identified 359 accounts as explicitly racist abuse by gamers, with abuse volume increasing 48% in the second half of the season.
As of July 2021, according to the PFA, more than three quarters of the accounts were still active. Racism formed a small part of the wider abuse, with the PFA reporting 1,674 accounts to Twitter for offensive content.
These accounts confirmed that 367 belong to people who were fans, members or season ticket holders of UK football clubs. The statistics are in line with the Guardian’s research into the extent of abuse against the English squad during this summer’s European Championship.
The players union’s new board chairman Maheta Molango said the fact that so many perpetrators were identifiable meant that platforms had no excuse for not acting. “It is time to move from analysis to action,” said Molango.
“The work of the PFA with [the data analysis company] Signify clearly shows that technology exists to identify widespread abuse and the people behind offensive accounts. Access to this data means real consequences can be followed for online abuse. If the players union can do it, so can the tech giants. “
That message was echoed by Troy Deeney, the Watford captain, who was recently appointed to the PFA Players Committee as part of a major organizational reorganization. “Social media companies are huge companies with the best technicians,” Deeney said. “If they wanted to find solutions to online abuse, they could. This report shows that they choose not to. When is enough, enough? “
It is possible to browse the contents of Twitter because the company makes its application programming interface (API) public. This is not possible on other platforms, on which widespread abuse also regularly occurs.
A Twitter spokesperson said, “It is our top priority to keep everyone who uses Twitter safe and free from abuse. Although we have made progress recently to give people more control over their safety, we know there is still a lot to be done. “
Molango joined the PFA last month, replacing Gordon Taylor after leading the organization for 40 years. The former Brighton, Lincoln and Grays striker also served as the legal representative of Atlético Madrid and was most recently CEO of Real Mallorca. He was appointed through an independent process recommended by an external governance review of the PFA. The review came to an end after an outcry over Taylor’s salary of 2.3 million at the time.
The content of the report, which was handed over to the PFA leadership over a year ago, has yet to be published. Molango said he could not commit to doing so before discussing it with the PFA’s players’ committee and “operational” board, but said the report was an “important milestone” for the organization.
Molango has embarked on an introductory tour of English football, starting with the National League play-off finals and ending with 11 Premier League teams to date, to better understand the needs of his new organization. He mentions dementia and neurodegenerative diseases as two main topics in addition to the need for more equipment.
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“You are not a machine, you are a human,” said Molango. “Sometimes the machine says no, and that’s my concern. I think that also affects the quality of what we see [on the pitch]. I want players to show their best version because they are fresh enough and fit enough to show it off. If you play every three days, that’s just impossible. “
Molango said he was ready to sit down with the EFL to discuss ways to cut costs after Taylor’s PFA took the Football League to court and won over a wage cap. He also said that the PFA supports vaccinating its members against Covid-19, but that “our role is to contribute to the education” of the players in order to make a decision.