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PFA calls for stronger interventions on social media

Reece James, Chelsea

Over the past five days, we have seen another spate of disgusting racist abuse aimed at Black professional footballers. 

Axel Tuanzebe, Anthony Martial, Romain Sawyers, Reece James and Marcus Rashford should not have to put up with being racially abused because some racist 'fans' don't like the results of a football match. These players are at work, and racist abuse should not be tolerated as part of any profession.

We have been very clear that social media platforms are an extension of a professional footballer's workplace. 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.

We welcome the arrest made for the abuse aimed at Sawyers and the statement made by Greater Manchester Police today addressing this issue.

Police have arrested a man suspected of racially abusing West Bromwich Albion player Romain Sawyers online
Police have arrested a man suspected of racially abusing West Bromwich Albion's Romain Sawyers online

In 2019, the PFA, together with players from across the leagues, launched the #ENOUGH campaign with a 24-hour boycott of social media platforms. 

As part of our ongoing work in this area, we have had extensive meetings with social media networks, football's stakeholders, government and players. We have released two research studies to determine how these issues are perpetuated - one of which identified the ways social media networks were failing to address the issue.

We also called for a government inquiry into racism in football. Last week, we met with Cabinet ministers to discuss discrimination in football, with players sharing first-hand accounts of their experience of racist abuse online. Following the meeting, the government committed to introduce new laws around online abuse and launch a fan-led review of football governance. While we welcome these steps, finding a way to protect players from ongoing racist abuse cannot wait.

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford received racist abuse following a draw with Arsenal
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford received racist abuse following last night's draw with Arsenal

Players have repeatedly raised this issue publicly, and still, the abuse persists. While none of us have the power to eradicate racism from society, social media companies must do their part and eliminate it from their platforms – over which they do have control.

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 wellbeing.

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.

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