Raheem Sterling urges social media companies to use technology to tackle online abuse

Raheem Sterling has questioned whether the will exists for social media companies to use technology to clamp down on online abuse.

A PFA-commissioned report in partnership with data science company Signify Group and supported by Kick It Out used machine learning systems to analyse messages sent publicly via Twitter to 44 high-profile current and former players from across the top divisions of English football.

During the six weeks of Project Restart, 825,515 tweets directed at the selected players were analysed and more than 3,000 explicitly abusive messages were found.

Fifty-six per cent of all the discriminatory abuse identified during the study was racist, with 29 per cent of racially-abusive posts being in emoji form, something Twitter is “not effectively intercepting” and has previously been identified as a major issue for the social media platform.

Sterling said: “I don’t know how many times I need to say this, but football and the social media platforms need to step up, show real leadership and take proper action in tackling online abuse.

“The technology is there to make a difference, but I’m increasingly questioning if there is the will.”

Wycombe Wanderers striker Adebayo Akinfenwa said: “As someone who has experienced online abuse first-hand and spoken to team-mates who have experienced the same, I can say that players don’t want warm words of comfort from football’s authorities and social media giants, we want action.

“The time for talking has passed, we now need action by those who can make a difference.”

As a result of the study, the PFA has made four recommendations for action:

  • Proactive monitoring of social media platforms: football’s stakeholders and clubs should now work together and fund a centralised AI driven system to proactively monitor abusive users across social media platforms.
  • Apply offline consequence for online actions: aim to identify abusive users, and then pursue real-world consequences including prosecutions, stadium bans, suspensions within amateur and grassroots football.
  • Evidence led pressure on social media platforms: to gain commitment towards more proactive interventions for abusive posts and for stronger measures to be taken against abusive users.
  • Call on social media platforms to address abusive emojis: greater use of monitoring and technology to address the use of emojis as a form of abuse.

In response to the study, a Twitter spokesperson told Sky Sports: “Racist behaviour has no place on Twitter and we strongly condemn it. We continue to take action on any account that violates the Twitter rules. We welcome people to freely express themselves on our service, however, as outlined in our Hateful Conduct Policy, account holders cannot promote violence against, threaten or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity or other protected groups.

“We have proactively engaged and continue to collaborate with our valued partners in football, to identify ways to tackle this issue collectively. We remain focused on proactively actioning hateful content – now more than one in two Tweets are identified and removed without reports.

“We want to reiterate that abusive and hateful conduct has no place on our service and we will continue to take swift action on the minority that try to undermine the conversation for the majority. We will continue to play our part in curbing this unacceptable behaviour – both online and offline.”

A Facebook company spokesperson said: “We don’t want any form of discrimination on our apps and have recently partnered with Kick It Out on its Take A Stand campaign, where we announced a series of action-focused initiatives centred around reporting and education.

“We’ve also introduced technology to give people more control over their experience, including a setting for public figures to prevent people they don’t know from messaging them.

“To learn more about how you can take a stand, report discrimination or access educational resources, add 07432140310 to your WhatsApp contacts and message ‘hi’.”

Sky Sports unites against online hate and abuse: ‘It has to stop’

Presenters from football, boxing, F1, basketball, Sky Sports News and horse racing are among those who are sharing their own experiences to highlight the extent of this abuse on digital and social sites and the damage it can cause.

In a video produced by Sky, the presenters are united in saying ‘enough is enough’ and that it’s time for the hate to stop and for everyone to be able to enjoy sport.

Sky Sports is committed to inspiring change and to help tackle online hate.

If you see a reply to Sky Sports posts and/or content with an expression of hate on the basis of race, colour, gender, nationality, ethnicity, disability, religion, sexuality, age or class, please copy the URL to the hateful post or screengrab it and email againstonlinehate@skysports.com

(c) Sky Sports 2020: Raheem Sterling urges social media companies to use technology to tackle online abuse

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