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PFA hits out at Twitter for not taking down racially abusive posts

The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) — the players’ union in English football — has raised “significant concerns” over Twitter’s response to what it describes as “horrific hate” directed to players through abusive posts on the social media platform.

With English football, led by the Premier League and Women’s Super League as well as UEFA, starting a three-day boycott of social media on Friday, the PFA has published a letter in which it claims that Twitter has failed to remove a series of racially abusive posts directed to footballers in recent months.

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Within the letter, the PFA points to an investigation which showed that 31 out of 56 discriminatory and abusive messages were still “visible and live,” despite being reported to Twitter in November 2020.

ESPN has seen the messages highlighted by the PFA and can confirm that they contain highly offensive racist language towards players including Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha and Wycombe player Adebayo Akinfenwa.

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“This situation is absolutely unacceptable,” PFA Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Simone Pound said. “While the platforms repeatedly stress that they are doing all they can to combat online abuse, extreme racist abuse remains visible on Twitter five months after we provided them with clear evidence of abusive content.

“At the time of our last online abuse study, we sent the account details and relevant abuse directly to Twitter, and still there is inaction on horrific hate.

“Words are not enough. For people to believe that social networks are taking this issue seriously, we need to see them addressing the issue and finding solutions.”

Within the letter about Twitter’s failure to act satisfactorily, the PFA said: “On the eve of a football-wide boycott of social media platforms to protest online abuse, data compiled by the Professional Footballers’ Association has highlighted significant concerns regarding Twitter’s response to abusive posts aimed at professional players.

“Following a 2020 study of online abuse in the Premier League across Project Restart, the PFA compiled a focused list of 56 racist and discriminatory tweets posted during the study period that remained live on the platform. In November 2020, the PFA notified Twitter of these messages and the offending accounts, many of which had posted other discriminatory and abusive messages.

“A recent investigation by the PFA shows that 31 out of the 56 highlighted posts from these accounts are still visible and live.

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“Further to this, the PFA gave Twitter a list of another 18 tweets posted before the reporting period that included examples of targeted, extreme, racist abuse directed at players — for whom case studies were provided in the report.

“As of April 2021, 15 of the 18 tweets are still visible and live.”

The PFA will join English football’s social media boycott on Friday — a boycott that has been joined by other sports including cricket, rugby league and horse racing.

“The boycott shows sports, broadcasters and sponsors coming together to emphasise that social media companies must do more to eradicate online hate, while highlighting the importance of educating people in the ongoing fight against discrimination,” The PFA said.

“Boycott action from football in isolation will, of course, not eradicate the scourge of online discriminatory abuse, but it will demonstrate that the game is willing to take proactive steps in this continued fight.”

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