Manchester United’s director of communications has warned anonymous trolls that the club are working with social media platforms to stamp out racist abuse and identify offenders.
Both Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial suffered racist abuse on social media after United’s defeat to Sheffield United, continuing the growing prevalence of people hiding behind anonymous accounts to target players.
Martial’s wife has since received abuse and death threats on social media as well.
Speaking to BBC Five Live, United director of communications Charlie Brooks argued that social media platforms should force users to identify themselves before being allowed an account.
He said: “You have people propagating this kind of vile abuse at footballers and, of course, it happens at every level of society and football becomes a lightning rod for it.
“Players have to deal with that, they’re used to criticism in their roles, they’re used to being public figures but no one should have to put up with what they’ve had to put up with on social media.
“We’ve had discussions with social media platforms and they’re committed to helping, they have better monitoring and will take down accounts where they see abuse, but, really, the impetus has to be on them to create verifiable and identifiable accounts.
“Whilst they’re allowed to stay anonymous, these people can continue to spout these vile views.”
Brooks said he accepts that some people require anonymous accounts on social media but argued that this can be done as long as platforms are aware of who is behind the account.
He said: “I understand a lot of people would say they need to remain anonymous on social media, they might themselves face persecution and I know there’s a big debate on that.
“What’s important is that they’re not allowed to stay anonymous at the back end.
“If an account is anonymous in public, so to speak, that’s one thing, but if they’re then using that to create illegal, hate-filled terms on social media, they should be able to be tracked, identified and handed over to the authorities if necessary.
“That’s something social media platforms need to look at and I know that’s part of a wider debate with government and the Online Harms bill that’s coming up at the moment.”
Whilst some may claim the issue is a problem for football to deal with, Brooks says it is representative of society as a whole.
He said: “You wouldn’t get away with walking into a pub in non-Covid times or standing in the street, spouting this kind of abuse, so why should they have a platform to do it?
“It seems unfortunate that this has been allowed to go unregulated for quite some time. It’s a sickening reflection of an element of society.
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Manchester United lost 2-1 to Sheffield United as they passed up an opportunity to return to the top of the Premier League table.
There’s no time for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players to feel sorry for themselves, though, with a game against Arsenal at the Emirates to come on Saturday.
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“It’s a problem that affects many clubs, it’s not football’s problem per se, but society’s problem, and it’s a problem we have to deal with as a club and our players have to cope with.
“We’ve done a lot to try and combat it. Education is key and practical help as well as campaigning is key.”
He added: “I think the players are sick of it, they’re absolutely sick of it.
“We as a club are sick of it. We have a long-standing commitment to combatting racism through our own All Red, All Equal initiative, which is something we’ve focussed on both at a campaigning level and a practical help level.
“We’ll of course help the players, all clubs do that and the Premier League do that with an online reporting system for players and their families, but, ultimately, nobody should have to face this in their place of work.
“That’s what it is for the players.”