Today, PFA Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Simone Pound, joined former players Lianne Sanderson, Anton Ferdinand and PFA Players’ Board member Marvin Sordell to give evidence in front of a Home Affairs Select Committee examining online racist abuse of players.
During the discussion, Anton told MPs about the significant impact racist abuse had on his mental health and warned social media companies that they needed to take action imminently before the prolonged racist abuse of players resulted in suicide.
In August, the PFA published a damning report that found there was a 48% increase in unmoderated racist online abuse in the second half of the 2020/21 football season. The report conducted by ethical data science company, Signify, also showed that as of July 2021, more than three-quarters of the 359 accounts sending explicitly racist abuse to players were still on the platform, with the vast majority remaining unsanctioned.
When asked about the report and the lack of action from social media platforms, Simone said, “They present and speak in a way that you would feel that they are committed and are working on the issue, however, they are not doing enough. They are multi-billion dollar companies with all the technological resources at their disposal and they haven’t been able to come up with solutions. Football wrote them an open letter asking for specific things – verification, being able to block content, identifying accounts – and these things aren’t happening. We just really want some answers and we need to see solutions.”
The select committee also heard from Katy Minshall, head of UK public policy and philanthropy at Twitter and Tara Hopkins, director of public policy EMEA at Instagram who insisted that 95% of abusive posts were actively removed. While the PFA’s data from July 2021 suggests this was still insufficient, Simone also explained why removing posts was too narrow a focus for these social platforms.
“It’s not just posts.” she said, “We need to deal with accounts and account holders, as well as taking down the posts. We need to find out who is posting. We have been able to share information with Twitter - unfortunately, a number of those accounts were not taken down after three months of us sharing the information. Whilst we are giving them information, it is not being actioned as well as it should be.”
The impact racist abuse has on footballers can be significant and far-reaching, with Lianne sharing that her family now avoid social media to avoid seeing the vile comments aimed at her online. While social networks refuse to enforce the necessary measures to properly remove racist abusers from their platforms, other racists are emboldened, which can have lasting implications on wider society.
Simone cautioned, “It’s not just the impact on players and their families. We’re creating a really toxic culture that we need to address because it’s going to impact everybody.”