- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Raheem Sterling has been targeted with racist abuse on Instagram less than 48 hours after the football world lifted its social media blackout.
The Manchester City and England winger received a hateful comment in the wake of his side’s victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League semi-final, a win that sent the Manchester club to their first-ever European Cup final.
A user sent Sterling a string of monkey and gorilla emojis as a comment in reply to his post celebrating the club’s achievement of seeing off last season’s beaten Champions League finalists.
A spokesperson for Facebook, which owns Instagram, said: "The racist abuse sent to Raheem Sterling is unacceptable and we do not want it on Instagram.”
"We have removed the comment and taken action against the account that posted it. As part of our ongoing work in this space, we'll soon be rolling out new tools to help prevent people seeing abusive messages from strangers.”
Prior to the blackout, Sterling has been a frequent target of racially motivated attacks on social media.
The 26-year-old is not the only player to have been subjected to racist abuse since the blackout ended at 11:59pm on Monday. Rangers forward Kemar Roofe took to Instagram to highlight a string of racist messages he was sent on Tuesday, the day on which the blackout ended. Roofe was sent racist emojis, including a monkey and an orangutan.
Analysis: The abuse directed at Raheem Sterling reiterates the need for tougher action
The social media boycott conducted by athletes and sporting leagues was never designed to end abuse or racism in one fell swoop, but the continued, unrelenting tide of hurtful messages will cause alarm in some quarters.
The #StopOnlineAbuse campaign, which ran over four days over the bank holiday weekend, was supposed to bring attention to the horrific daily experiences of athletes on social media, not just to the public, but the social media companies themselves.
Footballers, rugby players, cricketers and the rest have all been victims of vile, racist, sexist, homophobic abuse. They believe that social media companies, such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have willfully looked the other way and failed to clamp down on the language used and distributed on their platforms.
The boycott, initially inspired by Thierry Henry’s decision to quit social media for good, was supposed to bring focus to the companies and make them resolve the issue by hitting them in the one place they care about - their financial bottom line.
The four-day silence was designed to reduce traffic to these sites, thereby reducing the number of eyeballs they have, which is the foundation of their business model. Lionel Messi was the most followed star to participate, telling his 200m Instagram followers “no one deserves to be mistreated or insulted.”
“We must strongly condemn these hostile attitudes and demand companies that manage the networks to take urgent action against these behaviours...Big hug to all and congratulations to all the football people in the UK for their idea rigging the campaign against abuse and discrimination”.
But as perhaps expected, the silence of the social media guns has done little if anything to stem the short-term tide of abuse. While supported by individuals from across society, including HRH Prince William, the 81-hour boycott did not stop the likes of Kemar Roofe, Morgan Whittaker and Rabbi Matondo receiving toe-curling messages of hate.
It is perhaps best to view the boycott as a first step. A way to raise awareness, but not a meaningful act in and of itself. What follows in the coming days and weeks will provide a much more useful barometer of how serious society is about combatting this scourge.
The FA have called on the government to introduce “strong legislation quickly and request that individuals call out and report online abuse when they see it”, while Henry has proposed an end to anonymity for social media account holders: “We need to know who is behind those accounts. You try to buy a house and you have to let them know how many teeth you have and what you had for breakfast.”
If the world of sport is going to make a material difference in this space, it must now unite around a cohesive set of achievable goals. Identifying trolls, tracking them down and reporting them to police seems to be the most effective first step. A partnership with the technology company Sportsradar seems a sensible place to start.
In May 2020, Sportradar ran a pilot scheme at two exhibition tennis events, where they tracked down trolls who sent abuse to those participating. Of the 44 people who sent abusive messages during the tournaments, 21 were identified and their details handed to relevant authorities. Those trolls were punished by either having their accounts removed or by having legal proceedings brought against them.
While a 50 per cent hit rate may not be ideal, it represents a start and more importantly, gave the athletes a sense that someone was watching their backs and supporting them. As the technology improves and can become more targeted, would the wider sporting community not benefit from a scheme such as this?