PFA Data Highlights Serious Concerns about Response to Online Abuse

Raheem Sterling, Manchester City

Ahead of a football-wide boycott of social media platforms to protest online abuse, data compiled by the Professional Footballers’ Association has highlighted significant concerns regarding Twitter’s response to abusive posts aimed at professional players.

Following a 2020 study of online abuse in the Premier League across Project Restart, the PFA compiled a focused list of 56 racist and discriminatory tweets posted during the study period that remained live on the platform. In November 2020, the PFA notified Twitter of these messages and the offending accounts, many of which had posted other discriminatory and abusive messages.

  • A follow-up investigation by the PFA shows that 31 out of the 56 highlighted posts from these accounts are still visible and live.

In October 2020, England and Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling commented on the study: “I don’t know how many times I need to say this, but football and the social media platforms need to step up, show real leadership and take proper action in tackling online abuse. The technology is there to make a difference, but I’m increasingly questioning if there is the will.”

Further to 56 posts from the study, the PFA gave Twitter a list of another 18 tweets posted before the reporting period that included examples of targeted, extreme, racist abuse directed at players - for whom case studies were provided in the report.

  • As of April 2021, 15 of the 18 tweets are still visible and live.

Commenting on these findings, PFA Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Simone Pound said: “This situation is absolutely unacceptable. While the platforms repeatedly stress that they are doing all they can to combat online abuse, extreme racist abuse remains visible on Twitter five months after we provided them with clear evidence of abusive content. At the time of our last online abuse study, we sent the account details and relevant abuse directly to Twitter, and still there is inaction on horrific hate. Words are not enough. For people to believe that social networks are taking this issue seriously, we need to see them addressing the issue and finding solutions.”

Today at 3pm, the PFA will join English football and wider sport in switching off our social media accounts until 23.59 on Monday 3rd May.

The boycott shows sports, broadcasters and sponsors coming together to emphasise that social media companies must do more to eradicate online hate, while highlighting the importance of educating people in the ongoing fight against discrimination.

Boycott action from football in isolation will, of course, not eradicate the scourge of online discriminatory abuse, but it will demonstrate that the game is willing to take proactive steps in this continued fight.

Download the report

The findings in this report from October 2020 provided irrefutable, tangible evidence of the extent of the abuse aimed at players. Please note, the report contains abusive and racist language.