New data provided by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) shows that two in five Premier League footballers received abusive messages on Twitter last season.
The PFA worked alongside online hate detection company Signify to monitor levels of abuse throughout the 2020-21 campaign, and also investigated how the social media platform handled that abuse.
The report revealed that 176 (44 per cent) of the 400 players who use Twitter were the subject of abuse. Remarkably, 20% of this abuse was aimed at just four individuals, whom the PFA avoided naming for the risk of triggering further abuse.
Over six million posts were analysed with over 20,000 messages subjected to deeper study. Of these, 1,781 were deemed explicitly abusive and were sent from 1,674 individual accounts, 50 per cent of which were traced back to UK users. These tweets were subsequently reported to Twitter for removal and the accounts flagged for sanctioning.
Furthermore, the report found that the problem worsened as the season progressed – with racist abuse increasing by 48 per cent in the second half of the campaign compared to the first. Abuse peaked in May, the month in which the season reached it's conclusion.
Signify discovered that over 75 per cent of the 359 accounts found to be sending explicitly racist abuse to players during the season were still on the platform last month. Only 56 per cent of racially abusive posts identified throughout the season had been removed, some of which had remained live for months and even the full duration of the season. Of those 56 per cent, the report determined that 19 per cent had been deleted by account holders themselves, rather than Twitter.
More than 80 per cent of targeted homophobic messages identified across the season, meanwhile, were still visible.
After the findings were presented to Twitter, PFA chief executive Maheta Malongo said: "The time has come to move from analysis to action. The PFA’s work with Signify clearly shows that the technology exists to identify abuse at scale and the people behind offensive accounts. Having access to this data means that real-world consequences can be pursued for online abuse. If the players’ union can do this, so can the tech giants."
Twitter, however, does not believe the report fully or fairly reflects the steps it has taken to proactively enforce its rules, and a spokesperson for the social media platform responded: "It is our top priority to keep everyone who uses Twitter safe and free from abuse. While we have made recent strides in giving people greater control to manage their safety, we know there is still work to be done.
“We continue to take action when we identify any tweets or accounts that violate the Twitter rules. We welcome people to freely express themselves on our service, however, we have clear rules in place to address threats of violence, abuse and harassment and hateful conduct.
“For example, in the hours after the Euro 2020 final, using a combination of machine learning based automation and human review, we swiftly removed over 1,000 tweets and permanently suspended a number of accounts for violating our rules – the vast majority of which we detected ourselves proactively using technology."
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