A failure to bring social media racists to justice is laid bare as new figures reveal reports to police have doubled in two years - but just a fraction result in arrest or charge.
Campaigners say racists are now enjoying "freedom of hatred" on platforms such as Facebook, but not facing any consequences for their actions.
New figures reveal that 23 police forces in England and Wales received a combined 1,394 allegations of racism relating to social media last year.
This is a 144 per cent rise on the 572 reports made to the same forces in 2018, while in 2019 they received 799.
But data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that very few result in prosecutions, with the Met Police charging just two people during that period.
Labour's Diane Abbott told The Mirror he has "no confidence" that people who post racist content will be punished.
And former Premier League footballer Marvin Sordell, whose decision to quit the game aged just 28 was partly prompted by the abuse he endured, said: "It's pretty clear to see that people can make whatever comments they want because they know that the likelihood of them being a) found and b) charged are very rare."
Have you reported social media racism to the police? Email [email protected]
Weyman Bennett, joint head of Stand Up To Racism and joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) said: "The police don't take seriously the racist acts organised on social media, they don't see it as an incubation of hate."
But police chiefs say they are hampered by platforms not providing crucial details which can help to identify racists.
Social media companies are under the spotlight following the torrent of sickening abuse directed at three England football heroes following the Euro 2020 final, which resulted in 11 arrests.
Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were targeted after defeat in the final with Italy at Wembley in July.
Earlier this year the Premier League and football clubs staged a boycott, demanding "real life consequences" for online discriminatory abuse.
But figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act suggest the number of arrests and charges has been low between 2018 and 2020.
The Mirror asked all 43 forces for the number of allegations of racism on social media made in the past three years, as well as the number of arrests and charges.
Many claimed they did not record this data in a retrievable form, and part of the problem appears to be that such complaints are not dealt with consistently across different forces.
Here are some of the key findings:
Image:SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Several forces said that they had reached "community resolutions" in some cases rather than charging people.
Mr Bennett said he was not surprised by the low arrest figures.
He said social media companies have the technology to identify locations where racist posts and messages are sent from, but regularly fail to act.
"The vast majority are traceable," he said. "Tracing them all isn't easy, but I'd suggest that what's going on shows this isn't a priority.
"Racism and hatred are things that don't belong anywhere, and once you go into a public forum it becomes a criminal offence."
The anti-racism campaigner added: "A lot of racists don't feel confident enough to march on the street, but they do feel confident taking to cyberspace. Enforcement doesn't limit freedom of speech, it limits freedom of hate."
Mr Bennett said he has reported racist messages to police in the past, but added: "The only time I've ever felt like there's going to be action is when I've told them there's going to be a demonstration."
Fellow activist Sarbjit Dhalu, of Stand Up to Racism, said the huge volume of hateful abuse the organisation receives means very little is reported to police.
She said: "If someone racially abused you on the street and called you the N-word or the P-word that would be seen as a racist attack, but we don't feel like we're getting the same level of protection online.
"Where we get a death threat or a rape threat we'll report it to the police, but we get so much we can't report every single one. We just block people.
"They (social media companies) have the software to prevent such messages being sent in the first place."
Ms Dhalu said that individual racists and organisations are getting more "emboldened" because of the lack of action.
Facebook and Instagram account for more than 60 per cent of complaints between them.
Twenty forces provided a breakdown of the sites which attracted the most complaints - with 1,232 reports of racism relating to alleged offences on Facebook and 375 on Instagram.
Image:Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
By comparison 99 complaints to the same forces relate to alleged offences on Twitter and 268 on Snapchat.
The National Police Chiefs' Council said that work is being down to crackdown on online hatred, but said the co-operation of networks is essential.
A spokesman said: "Anonymous accounts that cannot be traced through traditional investigation methods puts greater responsibility on the shoulders of social media companies to hand over the IP address for those who post illegal and harmful material.
"This would enable authorities to seek subscriber details, but most platforms are only prepared to do so under a court order which is not possible in many host states.
"We fully investigate all cases brought to us. Ultimately, we need to prove guilt using evidence, and this is then decided in court after police have successfully received a charging decision from the CPS. We offer our support to all victims and can make referrals to support services where appropriate."
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Hate Crime, Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, said: “Online hatred can cause significant distress and can increase community tensions.
"Police ensures that victims of crime, whether online or offline, are taken seriously, supported and receive a full and impartial investigation.
“Reports of online abuse and social media offences are increasing and we have improved training for our officers. We have specialists from many third sector organisations on hand to offer advice and support on a daily basis to keep people safe, and feeling safe, despite the worrying nature of these offences.”
In a statement the Met Police said: "The Met does not tolerate any form of discrimination, and is committed to prosecuting any offenders where there is evidence that meets the evidential threshold. Investigating crimes committed online can be challenging due to the ease with which relative anonymity can be secured.
"We often require the cooperation of social media and other platform providers to successfully pursue these suspects successfully."
The force said that racially-aggravated hate crimes had risen online and offline during the pandemic.
It continued: "Where any allegation of hate crime is made to the police, we will launch a proportionate investigation. In some cases there may be a lack of evidence to support a prosecution and a case will be closed when all investigative opportunities have been exhausted."
In October plasterer Bradford Pretty, from Kent, was given a suspended jail sentence after pleading guilty to sending a message via the internet that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.
He used racist terms directed at the black footballers in a video posted following the match.
Image:KMG / SWNS.COM)
The Mirror sent a list of questions to Facebook, asking for a breakdown of the number of racism complaints it had received, and the number of times it had provided details to police.
The network says it is being proactive, removing more than 33 million pieces of hate speech content, 93 per cent before they were reported, and says incidents have falling slightly in the first three months of the year.
It says it responds to "valid legal requests for information" from police, and is working with police chiefs to improve co-operation.
A spokesperson said: “No one should have to experience racist abuse anywhere, and we don’t want it on Facebook or Instagram. We share the goal of holding people who share this content to account and we do this by taking action on content and accounts that break our rules and working with the police.
"We respond to valid legal requests for information as quickly as possible, and are confident that the information we provide is helpful to police investigations.
"We also encourage people to turn on Hidden Words, a tool which means no one has to see abuse in their comments or DMs. No one thing will fix this challenge overnight, but we’re committed to keeping our community safe from abuse.”
A Twitter spokesperson said the company 'does not tolerate abuse or harassment of people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, caste, disability or disease'.
The social media giant says it removes content that violates it's rules, which includes 'dehumanising language', 'hateful imagery and emojis'.
Twitter has rules in place to address threats of violence, abuse and harassment and stressed it takes action when it finds accounts that violate them.
However the spokesperson added that technology alone isn't enough to solve the issue so they work with other organsiations to tackle racism and regularly meet with the Met Police.
Anyone who wants to report violations can do so here https://help.twitter.com/en/forms/law-enforcement