MANCHESTER, England, July 13 (Reuters) – Online racial abuse against English footballers led UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to meet with social media companies on Tuesday, but as the focus is on the action of the Industry experts have warned that the global nature of the problem makes it difficult to bring legal action against the perpetrators.
Experts in the field of online abuse highlight the problem of fake accounts, while a specialist in online threats and intelligence said there is a potential risk of a strategic and targeted campaign designed to undermine social cohesion and to the reputation of the United Kingdom.
Twitter and Instagram declined to discuss the location of the accounts they banned in connection with the fallout from Sunday’s Euro 2020 final, which resulted in three Black England players, who missed penalties in their shootout defeat against Italy, were victims of racist abuse online.
But data from previous surveillance by various agencies indicates that many attacks are coming from outside the UK.
Premier League data from their monitoring of player abuse showed that around 70% of cases involved abuse from social media users outside the UK, a source told Reuters on Tuesday. league.
England manager Gareth Southgate noted this aspect on Monday, condemning the abuses targeting Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka.
“For some of them, being mistreated is really unforgivable. I know a lot of things come from abroad, people who follow these things are able to explain it, but not all,” he said. .
There is evidence that racial abuse of footballers on social media is taking place around the world.
The Fare Network, which monitors and campaigns against racism and discrimination in football, commissioned a study on Champions League and Europa League matches last August, involving European clubs, including England’s Manchester United and Manchester City.
“The abuse is global, with stories from Indonesia to Argentina leveling racism and homophobia among gamers. The greatest number of discriminatory posts have appeared in French and Spanish, followed by English.” , the report revealed.
With online trolls and abusers based around the world, it is difficult for the Football Association (FA) and other organizations to target them for legal action.
“It makes it more and more difficult because the challenge is that, even though you find yourself in a position where you want to use law enforcement and pursue something more, you have laws, rules and things. transnational regulations and different legislation, “Edleen John, director of international relations, corporate affairs at the FA and co-partner for equality, diversity and inclusion, told Reuters.
Adding to the complexity, says John, is the fact that some users conceal their true location and IP address, using proxy servers and VPNs.
“It has been a constant and ongoing challenge to try to wipe out some of the attackers,” she said.
Premier League clubs such as Manchester United regularly face abusive messages sent to their players online and have since Sunday reported more than 50 social media accounts to platforms, police and the Premier League.
Some online abuse experts are also examining the use of anonymous accounts, automated accounts, known as “bots” and accounts designed simply to cause trouble – or “trolls.”
Christopher Bouzy of Bot Sentinel, a US-based organization that tracks and monitors harmful social media accounts, has looked into the abuse of English players Sancho, Rashford and Saka.
“We looked at all three players, there were fake accounts, inauthentic accounts but… it would take us days to analyze to really see what is real and which accounts are just there to cause trouble,” he said. he declared. told Reuters, adding that they had found no evidence of a coordinated campaign against the players.
Philip Grindell, CEO of Defuse, a threat and intelligence consultancy that works with figures subject to targeted harm, said that in addition to taking concrete steps to identify and prosecute offenders, authorities should consider that certain abuses could be coordinated.
“It is important to be aware of the potential of a targeted strategic use of social media to undermine the UK both in terms of social cohesion and damage the UK’s reputation and economic opportunities”, did he declare.
The Premier League succeeded last month in securing the prosecution of a 19-year-old in Singapore after abusing Brighton and Hove Albion striker Neal Maupay, the first time the league has secured such a conviction in outside the UK.
Twitter said in a statement Monday that it had deleted more than 1,000 tweets and permanently suspended a number of accounts for violating their rules, the day after the Euro 2020 final.
Facebook, which also owns Instagram, said it also removed comments and abusive accounts from English players and would continue to do so.
The platform said it has a “Hidden Words” tool which “means no one should see abuse in their comments or private messages.”
Football authorities and activists have urged social media companies to take action to prevent the abuse from being published in the first place.
“These are multibillion dollar organizations with significant technological resources and capabilities, so surely the challenge is that they should be able to channel those resources … to be able to act even faster than they do at home. minute, ”the FA said. John.
Reporting by Simon Evans Editing by Toby Davis
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.