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Anton Ferdinand slams big tech firms for failing to protect players from vile racist abuse

Anton Ferdinand has challenged social media companies to take action over racist abuse before a high-profile footballer – or one of their family – commits suicide because of online persecution.

The former Queen’s Park Rangers‘ player suffered relentless abuse and death threats from a career-defining moment, following an incident with Chelsea defender John Terry in 2011.

Terry was alleged to have used a racial slur against Ferdinand when Chelsea lost to QPR at Loftus Road. Terry was later found not guilty following a court trial but the incident and the aftermath resulted in thousands of hate messages sent to Ferdinand.

Speaking to the Home Affairs select committee on Wednesday, Ferdinand described the catastrophic impact the abuse had on his mental health and warned not enough is being done to protect the current generation of footballers.

‘My worry is what are the social media companies waiting for? Ferdinand told MPs.

‘Are they waiting for a high-profile footballer to kill themselves, or a member of their family to commit suicide?’ 

‘Is that what they are waiting for? Because if that is what they are waiting for that is too late. That is too late. Let’s deal with the issue now.’ 

Ferdinand was giving evidence to the Home Affairs select committee in Parliament today

Ferdinand’s hard-hitting intervention comes as the issue of racist abuse of footballers has been put firmly back on the agenda, following England’s defeat in the final of Euro 2020, when the team lost on penalties to Italy in July. 

  • Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho were deluged with hateful and racist messages after they missed penalties in the final shootout
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince William, who is the honourary president of the Football Association, stepped in to defend the players and condemn the racists
  • BBC investigation revealed yesterday that the majority of people who send abuse to the three players were not England fans and they lived abroad
  • The BBC also revealed that 79 of 105 accounts flagged for abusing the players were still not deleted or suspended six weeks later.
  • And today, the Professional Footballers’ Association has said today that Twitter has failed to act three months after abusive accounts were presented to the tech firm 

The ex-player demanded that social media firms do more to tackle the scourge of abuse.

‘My question always is to social media companies when I have a conversation with them, “this comes down to do you really want change”. Do you really want to?

‘This far their words are, they want to, but their actions say different.’

The select committee is investigating the abuse of footballers and also took evidence from ex-player, Marvin Sordell, who retired from professional football aged just 28, in part because of abuse he received online.

Anton Ferdinand (r) suffered horrific racist abuse after an incident involving John Terry in 2011 and he says the current generation of footballers are not receiving protection from big tech

Anton Ferdinand (r) suffered horrific racist abuse after an incident involving John Terry in 2011 and he says the current generation of footballers are not receiving protection from big tech

The former England Under 21 and Watford striker agreed with Ferdinand there is a real risk of a player committing suicide, such is the pressure footballers feel when they are abused on social media.

But Sordell questioned whether there was the appetite to challenge what is happening, and made an unfavourable comparison with how quickly the game and the authorities moved to respond to the threat of the European Super League, compared to the ongoing problem of racism in the national sport.

Marvin Sordell says the response to the European Super League was fast but tackling racism in the game has been too slow

Marvin Sordell says the response to the European Super League was fast but tackling racism in the game has been too slow

‘We are heading down a dangerous path,’ said Sordell. ‘We cannot just wait and be reactive when something tragic happens because at some point that may be the case.

‘We should not have to wait and continue down this path and continue just talking without making any action.

‘We currently do not see racism as a serious issue. If it was, we would not be having this conversation every few months, every year, every decade as we seem to be doing so.

‘We definitely have to take this seriously for once and decide to stamp it out.’

Sordell added: ‘When things affect finances, people seem to react very quickly.’

Football has been plagued by trolls sending vile abuse to players, particularly after matches.

In some of the most recent – and abhorrent cases – abuse was sent to Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho on social media after they missed penalties in the Euro 2020 final defeat by Italy this summer.

Boris Johnson and Prince William condemned the mindless racists who bombarded the footballers with monkey, gorilla and banana emojis.

Racists bombarded Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho with abhorrent abuse after the trio missed their penalties during the Euro 2020 final

Racists bombarded Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho with abhorrent abuse after the trio missed their penalties during Euro 2020 final

Racists bombarded Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho with abhorrent abuse after the trio missed their penalties in the Euro 2020 final in the summer

Manager Gareth Southgate hugs Bukayo Saka after he missed his penalty, that sparked an torrent of foul online abuse now revealed to be mainly from racists abroad

Manager Gareth Southgate hugs Bukayo Saka after he missed his penalty, that sparked an torrent of foul online abuse now revealed to be mainly from racists abroad

‘MAJORITY OF TROLLS LIVED ABROAD’

The majority of trolls who sent vile racist abuse to Bukayo Saka , Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho on social media following the Euro 2020 final were not England fans and live abroad, a BBC Investigation found this week.

The vast majority of those who sent racist messages were not from the UK at all. Most were non-Britons living abroad, many with far-right sympathies, including trolls in Russia, across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

The racist abuse in the aftermath of the Euro 2020 final saw England labelled a ‘racist country’ with an ‘ingrained culture of intolerance’.

Claims that hundreds of England fans were ready to racially abuse their own players heaped more shame on the nation after drunk and cocaine-filled hooligans, without tickets, stormed through security at Wembley Stadium during the semi-final and final.

It was initially believed that most of the abuse emanated from UK-based social media accounts. However, a BBC investigation has revealed that the vast majority of those who sent racist messages were not from the UK at all. 

The investigation highlighted uncomfortable questions for social media firms about how serious they are about stamping out racism after researchers, aided by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, found 79 of 105 Instagram accounts flagged were still not deleted or suspended six weeks later. 

The evidence to today’s Home Affairs select committee also raised concerns about how quickly Twitter and Instagram take action against abusers, even when they and their accounts have been identified.

‘We have been able to share information with Twitter particularly because that is the platform, we have been monitoring… on a monthly basis,’ said Simone Pound, Director of Equality, at the Professional Footballers’ Association.

Marcus Rashford puts his face in his hands after missing his penalty by striking the post against Italy

Jadon Sancho puts his head in his hands after he failed to score in the penalty shoot out in Euro 2020 final

Marcus Rashford, left, and Jadon Sancho have their heads in their hands after missing their kicks against Italy in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley on July 11 – it prompted vile abuse online

Anton Ferdinand slams big tech firms for failing to protect players from vile racist abuse

Anton Ferdinand slams big tech firms for failing to protect players from vile racist abuse

In online abuse, one user wrote, 'Foreigners are stupid,' seemingly choosing to ignore that Saka was born in Ealing, west London

In online abuse, one user wrote, 'Foreigners are stupid,' seemingly choosing to ignore that Saka was born in Ealing, west London

In online abuse, one user wrote, ‘Foreigners are stupid,’ seemingly choosing to ignore that Saka was born in Ealing, west London 

‘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.

‘We were staggered… it is shocking,’ added Pound.

Lianne Sanderson was capped 50 times for England's women's team and is now a pundit, but she is regularly abused online

Lianne Sanderson was capped 50 times for England’s women’s team and is now a pundit, but she is regularly abused online 

MPs heard that it is not only current players, who are being harassed, intimidated and abused online by racists. The witnesses at the committee hearing, who included Lianne Sanderson, a former player-turned-pundit, said that racism was still endemic in the national game.

Ferdinand, Sordell and Sanderson fear racism has not gone away, it has just found a new outlet via social media. 

Sanderson, who was capped 50 times for the England women’s team, said she receives hundreds of abusive messages after appearing on Sky Sports, which often reduces her to tears following broadcasts.

People often say ‘rise above it, you don’t have to see it’, but it’s difficult because everyone has a breaking point. I think I had my breaking point two months ago, I had just come off Sky Sports News, we were three females on there and I came home to so much abuse.

‘It was just horrible. I just cried to my girlfriend. It is important to have the right people around you.’

Sanderson said she did receive support from Sky Sports.

‘My mum does not go on social media anymore. She gets upset at what she sees, same with my girlfriend and my dad. I think I have become a bit de-sensitized because I don’t want to keep coming home from the studio crying.’ 

Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger has opened up on the torrent on racist abuse he was sent

Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger has opened up on the torrent on racist abuse he was sent

Marcus Rashford hit back at online trolls last season , saying 'no one is going to make me feel any different'

Anthony Martial was targeted following United's draw with West Bromwich Albion in 20-21

Red Devils team-mates Marcus Rashford (L) and Anthony Martial (R) have received abuse

The level of abuse is increasing, according to research undertaken by the PFA, and last season was marred by many examples of vile insults aimed at players online. 

The committee also question representatives from Twitter and Instagram over their policies and performance in protecting users from racist abuse.

Katy Minshall, head of UK public policy and philanthropy at Twitter, told the committee: ‘We’ve got to a place where by the end of last season about 95 per cent of the abusive posts we were taking down using machine learning. 

‘Beyond that, we have partnerships with the clubs, the Football Association, the Premier League and others so that anything that doesn’t get detected they are able to report it directly to our enforcement teams.

‘Marvin hit the nail on the head when he said the challenge is the ease with which people can contact footballers and that’s where we’re starting to focus a lot of our work.’

Minshall admitted Twitter and other platforms had been thinking for too long about swiftly removing offensive posts.

She said the question now being asked was: ‘How can we stop these (offensive) tweets being sent in the first place?’

Minshall was asked about the issue of anonymity online.

‘You can’t be anonymous. If you sign up for a Twitter account we ask for your full name, your date of birth, and your email address or phone number, one of which you have to verify,’ she said.

‘There’s no shield from our rules or from criminal liability.’

Tara Hopkins, director of public policy EMEA at Instagram, also said 95 per cent of hateful content was proactively removed.

However, committee chair Yvette Cooper highlighted abuse she had found as recently as Tuesday directed at players such as Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford, including monkey and gorilla emojis and posts containing nothing other than one extremely offensive racist word.

‘Everything you have said to me seems like utter garbage compared to seeing these posts on the screen right now,’ said Cooper.

Hopkins said: ‘I am sorry that these posts are still up, they are clearly violating our policies.’

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