Fri. Mar 5th, 2021

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Twitter, Facebook and Instagram will be handed fines if they allow racial abuse of stars online

5 min read

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter will be handed fines for the abuse of footballers, like Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial, if they fail to protect them under tough new rules drawn up by ministers.

And that means they will have to deal with anonymous abusers so the police can take action, Sportsmail understands. 

Racist comments and emojis directed at the Manchester United team mates following their defeat against Sheffield United on Wednesday has horrified players, officials and Culture Secetary Oliver Dowden.

One comment on Tuanzebe’s Instagram account read ‘DAMNNN N*****’ as well as several monkey emojis on a photograph of his United shirt and number, posted two weeks ago.

Axel Tuanzebe was making his first league start of the season

Anthony Martial played the full 90 minutes of the defeat

Manchester United have condemned the disgusting racist abuse suffered by defender Axel Tuanzebe and striker Anthony Martial on social media

Oliver Burke's winner went in after a deflection off Axel Tuanzebe's left thigh at Old Trafford

Oliver Burke’s winner went in after a deflection off Axel Tuanzebe’s left thigh at Old Trafford

The club urged social media companies to ‘strengthen measures’ after being left ‘disgusted’ by the abuse Tuanzebe and Martial received. 

The club’s Director of Communications, Charlie Brooks, said the United players are ‘sick’ of the ‘hate-filled’ abuse online and urged social media platforms to create verifiable and identifiable accounts so the perpetrators can be caught.

Now, Dowden has said the government will deliver regulation, which will allow companies to be held to account for abuse on the online platforms – and that will include forcing companies to tackle anonymous abusers.

The abuse of Tuanzebe and Martial came just days after Dowden met with current and former footballers, including Jordan Henderson, Tyrone Mings, Anton Ferdinand and Karen Carney, to discuss discrimination.

Tougher sanctions will be included in the Government’s Online Harms Bill, which is expected to come before Parliament later this year, and is aimed at tackling a wide range of abuse, including child exploitation, terrorism, but also harassment.

Monkey emojis were posted on a picture the defender posted a couple of weeks ago

Monkey emojis were posted on a picture the defender posted a couple of weeks ago

Racist comments were also made on his Instagram account following the shock defeat

Racist comments were also made on his Instagram account following the shock defeat

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden was disgusted by racial abuse online of United's players

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden was disgusted by racial abuse online of United’s players

‘The racist abuse that Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial received is absolutely shocking,’ Dowden told the Telegraph.

‘As I discussed with current and former players earlier this week, social media companies must do more to tackle this issue.

‘We have set out plans to make online companies legally responsible for tackling this disgusting behaviour, so that what is unacceptable in the streets and stands is unacceptable online too.’

A White Paper published in December sets out the government’s intention to establish a regulator, with more powers than currently exist.

Sheffield United secured an unexpected victory at  Old Trafford on Wednesday

Sheffield United secured an unexpected victory at  Old Trafford on Wednesday

It includes fines for companies linked to the volume of views of illegal material, the time it takes a company to respond and also its turnover.

In addition, the government is exploring ways to hold individual senior managers at companies like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to account. They could be subject to individual prosecution.

‘The fines need to be sufficient to make the companies sit up and listen,’ MP Clive Efford told Sportsmail. ‘It has to be sufficient to hurt them. These are huge multi billion dollar companies.  

Facebook said 'there is no place for racism' on its platforms and it is committed to removingit

Facebook said ‘there is no place for racism’ on its platforms and it is committed to removingit

‘The people who are setting out to abuse and be offensive go to lengths to hide their identity and frims should do more to shut them down,’ added Efford, who is a member of the Department for Culture Media and Sport Committee, that has scrutinised the issue.

‘If you can hide your identity, you can be as racist as you like and firms don’t do enough. It must be possible for them to identify people.’ 

Manchester United chief Charlie Brooks has insisted the players are sick of online racial abuse

Manchester United chief Charlie Brooks has insisted the players are sick of online racial abuse

DCMS Committee chair Julian Knight has urged the government to speed up legislation

DCMS Committee chair Julian Knight has urged the government to speed up legislation

And ministers have been told to speed up and bring the Bill forward as soon as possible. 

Julian Knight DCMS Committee Chair has said government needs to ‘get their skates on’. He told Sportsmail: ‘The government is still being too slow with moving forward with online harms legislation. This incident once again underlines why social media needs robust, transparent regulation.’

Knight has been joined by The chairman of Kick It Out, Sanjay Bhandari, who has also called for Dowden to ‘accelerate’ the bill.

Sanjay Bhandari, Executive Chair at Kick It Out, said: ‘Online hate thrives because there is a culture of impunity – people feel free to say what they want because they are confident there will be no consequences. 

Skipper Harry Maguire has led the online support for his team mates who were racially abused

Skipper Harry Maguire has led the online support for his team mates who were racially abused

‘That must change. Online hate must have real-world consequences.’ 

The Professional Footballers’ Association described the latest abuse of players as ‘disgraceful and unacceptable’.

‘It cannot be allowed to continue,’ the PFA said in a statement.

Online racist abuse can already result in prosecutions of the individual perpetrators, if they can be identified.

‘Where possible, the PFA advises any player who receives online abuse to press charges,’ the players’ union added. ‘We want perpetrators to be held accountable for their online behaviour.

Scott McTominay has also gone online to show his support for his colleagues

Scott McTominay has also gone online to show his support for his colleagues

‘The accounts of those sending the messages must be banned. Their details need to be provided to the appropriate authorities to take further action.

However, identifying the individuals guilty of hate speech is still a problem.  

‘Identifying these anonymous mindless idiots remains problematic,’ Manchester United said in a statement. ‘We urge social media platforms and regulatory authorities to strengthen measures to prevent this kind of behaviour.’

A Facebook spokesperson told Sportsmail: ‘There is no place for racism on Instagram and we are committed to removing it when we find it.

Brandon Williams posted a picture of himself taking the knee on Twitter

Brandon Williams posted a picture of himself taking the knee on Twitter

‘We know there is more to do and we will continue to work closely with clubs, players and football authorities to investigate instances of discrimination and collectively tackle this issue.’

Meanwhile, United’s players, including Harry Maguire, Scott McTominay and Brandon Williams, have rallied round in support of their team mates. 

McTominay commented on a photo of Tuanzebe on the defender’s Instagram account with the simple  message, ‘TUANZEBE’ and a strong arm and heart emoji.  

United captain Maguire wrote on Twitter: ‘UNITED against racism. We will not tolerate it’ above a picture of he and Bruno Fernandes taking the knee.

Williams posted a picture of himself taking the knee on Twitter with the message: ‘#NoToRacism’.

Tuanzebe shared the club’s ‘United Against Racism’ post via Instagram Stories as he posted on social media for the first time since being targeted.  

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