Raheem Sterling is leading fresh calls to social media companies to step up and take real action after a ground breaking study revealed the alarming scale of online racism and abuse aimed at footballers.
Analysis of thousands of messages sent publically on Twitter to 44 current and ex-players during the six-week Project Restart period last season has revealed that 56 per cent of the abuse was racist and 43 per cent (13 out of 30) of the Premier League players were subjected to racist abuse.
A huge 50 per cent of the 3000-plus abusive messages recorded during the in-depth pilot study were sent to just three players – Sterling, Crystal Palace‘s Wilfried Zaha and Wycombe striker Adebayo Akinfenwa.
Raheem Sterling is leading fresh calls for action to be taken against online abuse and racism
A study revealed Wilfried Zaha was one of three players to get 50 per cent of the 3000-plus abusive messages
Adebayo Akinfenwa was also heavily targeted by messages sent to 44 current and former players during the six-week Project Restart period last season
Signify analysed 825,515 tweets directed at the 44 selected players during the six weeks of Project Restart
They identified over 3,000 explicitly abusive messages. 56% of all the discriminatory abuse identified during the study was racist.
43% of Premier League players in this study experienced targeted and explicitly racist abuse on public Twitter
50% of the total online abuse recorded in this study was received by three focus players, Sterling, Zaha and Akinfenwa, who spoke up on Black Lives Matter
29% of racially abusive posts came in emoji form. These posts have not been deleted or accounts banned. This highlights a blindspot for platforms.
Depressingly, the vitriol and sickening posts significantly increased AFTER the trio called out racism, highlighting the repercussions players face when they attempt to take a stand.
And 29 per cent of the racist abuse came in the form of emojis and the length of time which some remained visible, due to their context not being automatically detected by any measures Twitter have in place to combat offensive messages, highlighted ‘a weak point in Twitter’s efforts to deal with racism.’ The issue was labelled a ‘blindspot’ for the platform.
The PFA Charity’s study was backed by anti-discrimination organisation Kick It Out and carried out by data science company Signify.
Sterling was targeted twice following Manchester City’s win over his old club Liverpool
Zaha posted a string of messages he had been sent directly on social media ahead of Crystal Palace’s trip to Aston Villa in July
Akinfenwa posted about allegations he was repeatedly called ‘a fat water buffalo’ by a Fleetwood official last season
It contains a string of recommendations for social media companies, including that they start to recognise emojis as a potential form of discrimination and abuse, the government, football’s authorities, clubs and players.
The PFA and KIO have been lobbying the government to introduce legislation to clamp down on the problem and also been attempting to force social media platforms to introduce tighter controls.
Players meanwhile, have had enough.
England and Manchester City star Sterling said: ‘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.’
The PFA Charity’s study was backed by anti-discrimination organisation Kick It Out
Akinfenwa said: ‘Players don’t want warm words of comfort from football’s authorities and social media giants.
‘The time for talking has passed, we now need action by those who can make a difference.’
Signify used advanced and innovative technology and methods called machine learning systems to detect and scan 825,515 messages sent publicly to the 44 selected players on Twitter.
Worryingly, the study acknowledges ‘the worst, most threatening messages are sent via private, direct channels.’
Using public messages, however, allowed them to gather a larger body of evidence and make an even more detailed comparison between players and different incidents.
Five players abroad, including Jadon Sancho (left) and Romelu Lukaku (right) were targeted
The 44 players came from all 20 Premier League clubs, some represented more than once, four different EFL clubs and five abroad including Jadon Sancho, Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling.
The accounts of ex-players including Alex Scott, Ian Wright and Sol Campbell were also reviewed.
Of the total posts sent, 11,000 were deemed offensive or controversial and over 3000 explicitly abusive.
Along with the racist abuse, six players were sent homophobic posts, five received ableist, two sexist, two intra-community and one anti-semitic abuse.
Roma defender Chris Smalling was another player plying his trade abroad to receive abuse
One player alone received a third of the homophobic abuse.
Based on the study findings, it is estimated that 40 per cent of players ‘are suffering discriminatory abuse from fans on a routine basis.’
Zaha highlighted the scale of the problem when he posted a string of messages he had been sent directly on social media ahead of Crystal Palace’s trip to Aston Villa in July which led to the arrest of a 12-year-old boy.
The accounts of ex-players including Alex Scott (left) and Ian Wright (right) were also reviewed
The number of messages directed at Zaha afterwards multiplied five-fold. While some of the interactions were supportive there was also a clear spike in abuse in the following 48 hours.
Sterling was similarly targeted twice following Manchester City’s win over his old club Liverpool and after he spoke out about the ‘white lives matter’ banner flown over the Etihad during City’s 5-0 win over Burnley.
When Akinfenwa posted about allegations he was repeatedly called ‘a fat water buffalo’ by a Fleetwood official his interactions also shot up from 70 mentions-per-day in the previous three weeks to 1185-a-day in the following 48 hours.
Former Arsenal defender Sol Campbell was another ex-player whose account was checked