Scale of player abuse revealed ahead of social media boycott

Friday 30 April 2021 09:30

Ahead of English football’s social media boycott, Manchester United has published statistics which highlight the growing scale of the online abuse directed at its players.

United will join the rest of English football for a social media boycott from today at 15:00 BST to 23:59 BST on Monday 3 May, in response to the ongoing and sustained discriminatory abuse received online by players and many others connected to football.

For the boycott, the club and Manchester United Foundation will switch off all official Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts across the world. Manchester United has conducted its own in-depth review into the issue to analyse the level of abuse which players are subjected to across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The review looked at online activity from September 2019 to February 2021 and checked for abusive words being used against players’ names or account handles and covered racist, homophobic and abusive comments.

The analysis has found that since September 2019, there has been a 350% increase in abuse directed towards the club’s players. In the analysis, every abusive post was categorised with 3,300 posts targeting players who were playing for United at that time across the reporting period.

The review found that:

• 86% of these posts were racist, while 8% were homophobic or transphobic;
• this activity peaked in January 2021 with over 400 abusive player posts recorded;
• the vast majority of racist posts contained either the N word (and variants on the 
spelling) or emojis used with racist intent (monkey, chimp, banana, gorilla).

Fans are also being targeted by abuse on social media. The review highlighted the growing issue of user-to-user abuse within the football community with a sharp rise apparent from the summer of 2020. 43% of these posts were racist in nature, while 7% were homophobic or transphobic.
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Richard Arnold, Group Managing Director, said: “We have been actively campaigning against discrimination for some time through our All Red All Equal initiative. The level of support we have received for this work from our fans has been hugely encouraging but these figures show that despite that, the level of abuse our players and fans receive is on the up.

“It must be said that while these numbers are shocking, they do only represent a 0.01% of conversations that take place on social media about the club and the players.

“By taking part in this boycott this weekend, we, alongside the rest of English football, want to shine a light on the issue. It will generate debate and discussion and will raise awareness of the levels of abuse our players and our fans receive.”

Meanwhile, Manchester United has instigated club sanction proceedings against six individuals alleged to have breached club rules by abusing Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son on social media following the match on 11 April. Regretfully, suspensions have been issued, subject to appeal, to three season ticket holders, two official members and one individual on the season ticket waiting list.

This disciplinary action demonstrates the club’s commitment to the fight against discrimination on many fronts. It follows the launch of United’s anti-discrimination  campaign, SEE RED, earlier this month. SEE RED called on fans to celebrate the contribution of the club’s Black and Asian players and to report discriminatory behaviour. The club has also set up a new online reporting system for fans to use via United will work with the Premier League to escalate any complaints received to the social media platforms and the relevant authorities.