Football is gathering its forces to mount an attack on social media companies in an effort to make them take action over online hate messages to players and officials, including death threats made to the family of referee Mike Dean.
The sport’s governing bodies have lost patience with the tech giants after a torrid few weeks in which vile abuse has been directed at a host of high-profile figures.
Football officials have told Sportsmail they have been speaking to the companies for years without seeing significant progress.
But today, as football prepares to get tough on tech, Instagram has vowed to do more to tackle abuse.
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
In recent days, clubs and the Premier League have adopted a zero-tolerance policy to abuse.
They are increasingly referring cases to the police, but there is a consensus that Twitter, Instagram and Facebook must do more to stop the hate at source, or at least be able to identify perpetrators, so they can be kicked off the platforms and dealt with by clubs or the law.
Now, the Premier League, EFL, Football Association and Kick It Out are joining forces to demand the social media firms take decisive action to protect players and are expected to issue a strongly-worded joint statement demanding a response.
Everyone needs to do more,’ said Sanjay Bhandari, chief executive of the anti-racism organisation Kick It Out. ‘But in order of the ability to influence change it is the social media companies, then the Government and then football.
Sanjay Bhandari from Kick It Out says social media companies have the ability to act
Antonio Rudiger has opened up on the torrent on racist abuse he has been sent online
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
The Chelsea defender shared a screenshot of the racist messages he received on Instagram
‘Part of the challenge for football is that we are used to being the big dog in fights, but we are not in this one. We are David, they are Goliath.’
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 abuse of Reece James, the club’s talented, young full back.
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.
Alex Jankewitz, 19, was also sent abuse following his red card against Manchester United
Police have made an arrest over the abuse of West Brom midfielder Romaine Sawyers
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.
Disgust and frustration have led to renewed call for a social media boycott by players and clubs.
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’
The issue is on the agenda for Thursday’s EFL meetings and supporters of the move hope that if the lower leagues adopt a boycott the Premier League will follow suit.
However, Bhandari is not convinced a boycott will work.
‘There are 300 million users of Twitter and 2.7 billion users of Facebook, do they care if 4,000 professional footballers come off their sites temporarily?
‘Football has power and influence, but it is still only 4,000 people in that context.’
Even so, Instagram was the first social media to blink as the pressure builds.
The platform does not use technology to proactively detect content within private messages, but it has announced new measures, including removing abusive accounts, in a bid to reduce the abuse people get in direct messages.
Instagram has said it will take action to prevent the worst offenders abusing footballers
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.
‘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.
If abusive fans can be identified, then sanctions can be applied including stadium bans. A fan who made monkey gestures towards Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham in 2019 was subsequently banned for four years.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is preparing legislation to hold social media firms to account
Meanwhile, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is preparing an Online Harms Bill aimed at holding social media companies to account when users, not only footballers, are abused online.
Under the plans, social media companies will face fines of billions of pounds if they fail to protect people from abuse by ensuring they have the systems and staff in place to identify the vile insults and the perpetrators.
The legislation is expected to come before Parliament later this year.