Homophobia is the most common form of abuse aimed at footballers online, new PFA report shows

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Almost a third of abuse directed at players last season was found to be homophobic, while 23% was racist – with half of posts sent from the UK

Homophobia was the most common discriminatory online abuse aimed at footballers last season, a new study has revealed.

In-depth analysis commissioned by the Professional Footballers’ Association found that almost a third of abuse directed at players between September 2020 and May this year was homophobic, while 23 per cent was racist.

Spikes in abusive anti-LGBT+ posts occurred when individual players supported the Rainbow Laces campaign or wore a rainbow armband. As of July, more than four in five of the homophobic posts remained on the platforms, the report said. The players’ union collaborated with data science company Signify Group whose artificial intelligence system – Threat Matrix – analysed more than six million social media posts aimed at players in the Premier League, Women’s Super League and the English Football League.

More than 1,700 abusive posts were sent from 1,674 accounts. Of those, 543 contained homophobia and 392 included racism.

Around 100 abusive messages were posted each month, with 50 per cent being identified as from accounts based in the UK.

Two in every five Premier League players received discriminatory abuse, although 20 per cent of all the abuse identified was sent to only four players.

The study also found that social media companies appear to deal with abuse on a hierarchical basis and were more likely to deal with discriminatory posts sent to Premier League players than they were those in the WSL.

The report revealed that instances of abuse worsened across the season and surmised that social media companies were not doing enough to stop it.

“Now is the time for change,” former England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand said. “If we have this kind of technology at our disposal, why aren’t social media companies using it to eliminate racist and discriminatory abuse?”

Following the explosion of abuse aimed at England’s black footballers after they lost on penalties to Italy in the final at Wembley, the report further analysed more than 650,000 posts directed at the home nations players – England, Scotland and Wales – during Euro 2020 and found that more than 80 per cent of abusive comments were homophobic and racist.

Watford captain Troy Deeney said: “Social media companies are huge businesses with the best tech people. If they wanted to find solutions to online abuse, they could. This report shows they are choosing not to. When is enough, enough? Now we know that abusive accounts and their affiliation to a club can be identified, more must be done to hold these people accountable.”

The report concluded: “The findings present a worrying picture and validate key concerns raised by players; despite more attention and calls for action on online abuse, the reality (evidenced in this study) is that instances of targeted online abuse have increased.”

It added: “The PFA will use these findings to continue to press platforms, partners and government to take action and help change the direction of travel, improving the online experience for players and fans alike.”

(inews.co.uk, 04.08.2021)

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