Sun. Feb 28th, 2021

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MARTIN SAMUEL: It is time to stop talking and do something about vile online racism

3 min read

If Twitter can find a way of shutting down the President of the United States, one imagines it should not have too much difficulty taking out Bingtangsntosa, Jakedteddybear or any of the racists lurking in the darkest, dankest corners of social media abusing footballers.

Yet they don’t. The vileness persists. Taking the knee, messages on T-shirts, on TV screens, in endless rounds of well-intended documentaries and interviews have highlighted the issues faced by black athletes.

Yet real action, of the kind that addressed the rhetoric of Donald Trump only after he brought death and insurrection to the streets of the capital, is still no more than on the agenda. Where it has sat, for years, while little is done.

Marcus Rashford (L) and Anthony Martial (R) are among those who have received racial abuse

Marcus Rashford (L) and Anthony Martial (R) are among those who have received racial abuse

Last week Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, held a meeting with leading figures in football on the subject of online abuse. 

Karen Carney was there, detailing her recent experience with supporters of Leeds United. Influential figures such as Tyrone Mings and Jordan Henderson contributed. And on Sunday, Dowden made sure we noted his concern.

‘More shocking revelations today from @MarcusRashford on the scale of racist abuse online,’ he tweeted. ‘That’s why I organised a roundtable with footballers on Monday to discuss how we can use the upcoming Online Harms legislation to tackle this scourge. We must not & will not tolerate this.’ 

Nice words. But more words. We’ve had symposiums, plenty of them. We’ve all had a good old chinwag about racism, sexism and the horrid way it manifests on social media. And we’ve all agreed that it’s a bad thing.

The Manchester United forward was targeted on Instagram following the 0-0 draw with Arsenal

Users posted monkey emojis with one telling the striker to 'go back to the zoo'

The England international was targeted on Instagram after Man United’s 0-0 draw with Arsenal

What is to be done about this bad thing? That is all that should interest us. Not more well-meaning and carefully crafted public statements. Dowden won’t be Culture Secretary for much longer. He’s destined for higher things. 

So this is the chance, this is his moment to leave a lasting positive impression from his time passing through the world of sport. He says he wants to make the captains of the social media industry responsible for what appears on their platforms. So do it. Do it now.

Nobody thinks this is easy. Racists on the internet are shapeshifters. They close one account, reappear as another. They hide behind false names and know how to break up the English language into an easily deciphered code to get their message across while avoiding triggering censors.

After Trump was cast into the social media wilderness, he sought desperately to make his voice heard through other means, other accounts, other routes into public consciousness. The racists will do the same.

We can no more achieve zero racism on Twitter than we can make that target stick in everyday life. There will always be one sicko or thicko invading our space.

Yet there is more that can be done by the companies. Within football, there exists a strong consensus for a verification process for social media platforms, with a form of ID supplied on signing up to more easily identify perpetrators of abuse.

And, no, that isn’t fool-proof either. Depends on the veracity of the verification system. There are plenty of false IDs out there, plenty of disinformation and fraud.

It would, however, be a start. And if the medium does not want to take its verification process seriously, if the same outrages occur, that is when the Government, law enforcers and individuals should be prepared to pursue this to the top.

Now stop talking, and do something.

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