Twitter urged to tackle ‘vile’ racist attacks on Premier League stars

By Edd Dracott, Press Association

Twitter has been urged to take action after racially abusive tweets targeting a range of Premier League footballers were found on the site up to five years after being posted.

The Press Association found dozens of historical posts with racist language aimed at Premier League players such as Mohamed Salah, Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling.

After Liverpool winger Salah, a Muslim, scored against Southampton on Friday evening, one Twitter user said, in reference to the Islamic belief you should not eat pork, he would “force feed the c*** bacon”.

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(Twitter/Screengrab)
(Twitter/Screengrab)

Meanwhile, one post dated from September 2014 described Arsenal striker Welbeck as a “f****** cotton picking n*****”, while another aimed at Manchester City’s Sterling during Euro 2016 described him as “just a typical c**n all pace no brain”.

Similar racists posts were also found which targeted Chelsea’s Michy Batschuayi, Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Tottenham’s Moussa Sissoko.

Twitter deleted the tweets after the Press Association brought them to its attention.

The posts were discovered a day after the Government issued a white paper on online harms, which proposes new measures to regulate internet companies who do not adequately protect their users.

At the launch, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “We cannot allow the leaders of some of the tech companies to simply look the other way and deny their share of responsibility even as content on their platforms incites criminality, abuse and even murder.”

(Twitter/Screengrab)
(Twitter/Screengrab)

Asked about the posts and those responsible for them, Twitter said: “We don’t comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons.

“At Twitter, our primary objective is to serve and improve the health of the public conversation. This means surfacing more quality, credible content, building new policies and safety tools, and tackling issues such as abuse which detract from the health of the public conversation.

“This is paying dividends and we’ve seen a marked reduction in abuse reports. We will continue our singular focus on protecting the customers we serve,” it said.

The company said it used “introduced over 70 changes to make the service safer, including investment in better machine learning technology to help us proactively limit the spread of abusive content”.

However, it was unable to immediately explain how the abusive tweets had remained on the platform for so long.

Twitter said abuse and harassment had no place on the platform (Twitter).
Twitter said abuse and harassment had no place on the platform (Twitter).

Anti-racism campaigners Kick It Out said the technologies Twitter has in place to tackle the issues are “evidently” not working.

“Twitter says abuse and harassment has ‘no place’ on its site, but it is obvious that there really is a place for it there and in our view the problem is getting worse,” a spokesperson said.

“Footballers, like anyone in society, are entitled to go about their work without being abused, intimidated or trolled.”

When the historical tweets were shown to social media consultant Matt Navarra he said he was surprised “such vile derogatory tweets” had not been removed automatically by the platform.

“There often seems to be a far quicker response and effort to resolve issues related to copyright-protected content for its brand users and advertisers, compared to other inappropriate content,” he said.

“This therefore inevitably raises questions over Twitter’s attention to things that they may see as a perceived greater risk to its revenue streams and growth versus the health and safety of its platform for its users.”

(Twitter/Screengrab)
(Twitter/Screengrab)

Navarra added that elements of Twitter’s content removal process rely on users reporting hateful content.

“This suggests Twitter’s content moderation processes and systems still have some way to go to be fully effective at auto-detecting such activity using AI and machine learning technology,” he said.

“It’s even more alarming to see more recent Islamophobic abusive tweets against Mo Salah not being detected or removed already.”

Twitter did not respond directly to Navarra’s comments.

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