Dorsey and Zuckerberg must end football abuse 'out of human decency'

Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg have allowed Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to become ‘havens for abuse’ claim football’s leaders in a letter to the big tech firms telling them ‘basic human decency’ demands they stop the ‘vicious’ attacks NOW

  • Premier League, EFL, FA, Kick It Out and others have written to the big tech firms demanding action over online abuse of players, staff and officials
  • Football’s leaders claim they’ve had meetings ‘over many years’ but a ‘relentless flow of racist and discriminatory messages’ continues to be ‘tolerated’
  • Move comes after a series of vile racist messages sent to high profile players
  • This week death threats were made to referee Mike Dean and his family 

Football has united in its condemnation of Twitter, Facebook and Instragram in an explosive letter to the platforms’ chief executives, Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg. 

The open letter demands that Dorsey and  Zuckerberg bring the ‘vicious’ abuse of players, staff and officials to an end for reasons of ‘basic human decency’.

And it accuses them of allowing their sites to become ‘havens for abuse’.

Football leaders have condemned big tech firms for their inactivity over online abuse

The letter, signed by the leaders of the Premier League, Football Association, Professional Footballers’ Association, Kick It Out, the League Managers’ Association, the referees organisation PGMOL and the women’s game, makes demands of the big tech firms.

The authors insist:

  • Messages and posts should be filtered and blocked before being sent or posted if they contain racist or discriminatory material
  • Platforms should operate robust, transparent, and swift measures to take down abusive material if it does get into circulation
  • Users should be subject to an improved verification process that allows for accurate identification of the person behind the account
  • Sites should actively and expeditiously assist the investigating authorities in identifying the originators of illegal discriminatory material

Kick It Out chief executive Sanjay Bhandari is one eight signatories to the explosive  letter

The letter states: ‘As recent weeks have seen the levels of vicious, offensive abuse from users of your services aimed at footballers and match officials rise even further, we write to ask that for reasons of basic human decency you use the power of your global systems to bring this to an end.

‘The language used is debasing, often threatening and illegal. It causes distress to the recipients and the vast majority of people who abhor racism, sexism and discrimination of any kind. 

‘We have had many meetings with your executives over the years but the reality is your platforms remain havens for abuse. 

Antonio Rudiger has opened-up on the torrent on racist abuse he has been sent online 

Manchester United and England player Lauren James has been racially abused on Instagram

James posted the screenshot of a hateful social media comment with the caption ‘boring now’ 

‘Your inaction has created the belief in the minds of the anonymous perpetrators that they are beyond reach. 

‘The relentless flow of racist and discriminatory messages feeds on itself: the more it is tolerated by Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, platforms with billions of users, the more it becomes normal, accepted behaviour.’ 

The move comes after Chelsea’s centre back, Antonio Rudiger, revealed he has suffered ‘immense’ racist abuse on social media, and the club passed information to police about the appalling treatment of Reece James, the talented, young full back.

Marcus Rashford has responded to the vile racial abuse he received on social media


The England international was targeted on Instagram after Man United’s 0-0 draw with Arsenal

These incidents prompted the club’s owner, Roman Abramovich to write to every Chelsea player to offer his support for those who have suffered racism pledging to provide additional funding for the club’s anti-racism efforts. 

Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, Axel Tuanzebe, Anthony Martial, Southampton’s Alex Jankewitz, and West Brom’s Romaine Sawyers have all reported that they have been racially abused on social media.

Manchester United and England Women forward Lauren James, Reece’s younger sister, is the latest footballer to have been subjected to sickening racist abuse on social media.

James, 19, shared the vile screenshot of a number of monkey emojis directed to her by one particular user on her Instagram story. 

Police have made an arrest over the case of West Bromwich midfielder Romaine Sawyers 

Alex Jankewitz, 19, was also sent abuse following his red-card against Manchester United 

Last week, Chelsea winger Callum Hudson Odoi went on the offensive after it emerged social media companies did not class emojis, such as monkeys, as offensive.

He told beIN Sports: ‘How can that make sense? If somebody puts for example, a monkey emoji towards a player – why is that? How is a player a monkey? What does that mean to a player?’

And it’s not just players who are affected by abuse. On Monday, Merseyside Police confirmed they are looking into death threats made to referee Mike Dean and his family after he controversially sent off West Ham’s Tomas Soucek – a decision which has since been reversed – in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Fulham. 


Roman Abramovich (left) has written to every Chelsea player to offer his support for those who have suffered racism, including Reece James (right), who was the latest star to be abused

In recent days, clubs and the Premier League have adopted a zero-tolerance policy to abuse. They are increasingly referring cases to the police. 

On Tuesday, Chelsea welcomed the arrest of a 21-year-old man accused of hate crime messages after the club had worked with Met Police on the case.

This week, Instagram announced some changes on its platform to limit direct abusive messages, but this does not go far enough for the football leaders, who include, Mark Bullingham, the chief executive of the FA; Richard Masters, chief executive of the Premier League; Trevor Birch, EFL chief; Gordon Taylor, head of the PFA, and Sanjay Bhandari, from the anti-racism organisation, Kick It Out.

Chelsea have worked with the Met Police following hate crime messages on social media 

‘We ask you to accept that none of your users should be hounded off your platforms, losing access to the great communications media of our times, because of their gender or the colour of their skin,’ they continued.

‘The targets of abuse should be offered basic protections, and we ask that you accept responsibility for preventing abuse from appearing on your platforms and go further than you have promised to do to date.’

On Wednesday, Instagram announced new measures, including removing abusive accounts, in a bid to reduce the abuse people get in direct messages. 

Facebook content policy manager Fadzai Madzingira said: ‘I am horrified that they have to deal with that sort of abuse and as a company we take it very seriously.

‘We’ve always had rules around people who abuse our community standards in Instagram direct messaging, specifically.

Instagram has said it will take action to prevent the worst offenders abusing footballers

‘Currently we will set a specific ban or what we call a “block” for a set amount of time when someone violates those rules and we extend that time should they continue to do so.

‘What we’re announcing today is that we’re taking tougher measures on people who violate those rules in Instagram direct messaging, so instead of just extending the time, we’ll be removing the accounts altogether.’

Not all of the abuse meted out on the platform is in the form of private messages. And Madzingira said ‘there are a lot of difficulties’ preventing people from hiding behind anonymous accounts.

The pressure has been building on the big tech companies.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is preparing legislation to hold social media firms to account

As well as publicity and lobbying around football, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has picked up the fight for more action over online abuse. 

The Department for Culture Media and Sport is preparing legislation to hold social media firms to account, which should come forward this year.

Dowden has promised fines that could run into billions of pounds if companies fail to discharge a new ‘duty of care’ to their users. 

FOOTBALL’S LETTER IN FULL 

Dear Jack and Mark,

As recent weeks have seen the levels of vicious, offensive abuse from users of your services aimed at footballers and match officials rise even further, we write to ask that for reasons of basic human decency you use the power of your global systems to bring this to an end.

The language used is debasing, often threatening and illegal. It causes distress to the recipients and the vast majority of people who abhor racism, sexism and discrimination of any kind. We have had many meetings with your executives over the years but the reality is your platforms remain havens for abuse. Your inaction has created the belief in the minds of the anonymous perpetrators that they are beyond reach. The relentless flow of racist and discriminatory messages feeds on itself: the more it is tolerated by Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, platforms with billions of users, the more it becomes normal, accepted behaviour.

The services you provide are of course hugely impressive in their reach, scale and ease of use. Billions of communications every day are enabled by them, but a minority has found protected spaces where they can say whatever they want without regard to the law. We ask you to accept that none of your users should be hounded off your platforms, losing access to the great communications media of our times, because of their gender or the colour of their skin. The targets of abuse should be offered basic protections, and we ask that you accept responsibility for preventing abuse from appearing on your platforms and go further than you have promised to do to date. We ask that:

  • Messages and posts should be filtered and blocked before being sent or posted if they contain racist or discriminatory material
  • You should operate robust, transparent, and swift measures to take down abusive material if it does get into circulation
  • All users should be subject to an improved verification process that (only if required by law enforcement) allows for accurate identification of the person behind the account. Steps should also be taken to stop a user that has sent abuse previously from re-registering an account
  • Your platforms should actively and expeditiously assist the investigating authorities in identifying the originators of illegal discriminatory material

Many footballers in English football receive illegal abuse from accounts all over the world and your companies have the power to bring this to an end. We welcome the comments made on Twitter by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, that the UK Government is going to change the law to make social media companies more accountable for what happens on their platforms and they should “start showing their duty of care to players today by weeding out racist abuse now.”

Players, match officials, managers and coaches of any origin and background and at any level of football should be able to participate in the game without having to endure illegal abuse. We, the leaders of the game in English football, will do everything we can to protect them, but we cannot succeed until you change the ability of offenders to remain anonymous.

We note the current assurances from Facebook that standards will be tightened, but far more is needed to drive change. We call for meetings with your organisations to discuss the evidence of abuse on your platforms, the action you are taking, and how you plan to directly address the matters outlined in this letter.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Bullingham, CEO, The FA

Richard Masters, Chief executive, Premier League

Trevor Birch, CEO, EFL

Kelly Simmons, Director of the women’s professional game

Gordon Taylor OBE, CEO, PFA

Richard Bevan, Chief executive, LMA

Mike Riley, Managing director, PGMOL

Sanjay Bhandari, Chair, Kick It Out 




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