In May 2021, Marcus Rashford reported private messages to police after he was subjected to another wave of racist abuse on social media. He received more than seventy abusive messages online following Manchester United’s loss in the Europa League final against Villarreal. One user who sent abuse — a mountain of monkey emojis in his DM — turned out to be a maths teacher.
As England fell at the final hurdle of the Euro 2020 championships, to an Italy team who haven’t lost a game since 2018, it felt as if time was repeating itself. As soon as Bukayo Saka missed his penalty, we all knew what was coming. Within minutes, the Instagram accounts of Rashford, Sancho and Saka — the three players who missed during the shootout — were flooded with horrific racial abuse. Not only that, but a mural of Rashford in Greater Manchester was defaced just an hour after England’s defeat.
It was swiftly condemned across the country, with Gareth Southgate slamming the abuse as “unforgivable” and Prince William calling it “totally unacceptable”. And with it comes the question of why social media is so slow, yet again, to tackle the vitriol. It’s not the first time Black football players faced racial abuse after losing a football match, and unfortunately it won’t be the last.
Back in April, a coalition of English football’s largest governing bodies united with athletes from different sports to boycott social media over the worsening abuse towards players. At the time, anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out said the boycott “signifies our collective anger”. It was also a way to pressure social media companies to step up and take regulating harmful content more seriously.
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In response to the abuse faced by these young players over the past day, many social media users have taken action to report the content. This morning, Twitter was flooded with screenshots of people reporting the comments, while others were filling the comment sections with messages of positivity and hope. Some users were sharing photos of their reports being rejected. Labour MP Charlotte Nichols tweeted that “social media companies are a joke” when it comes to dealing with racism and hate, alongside a screenshot of her rejected reports over a user who had commented “its deportation time”.