Almost half of Premier League players abused on Twitter

Out of 400 Premier League players who were found to hold a Twitter account, 176 of them — 44% — received abusive messages
Almost half of Premier League players abused on Twitter

A general view of the Premier League logo 

Over 40% of Premier League players received abusive messages on Twitter last season, new data from the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) shows.

The players’ union worked with online hate detection company Signify to monitor levels of abuse on the platform in the 2020-21 campaign and its report also looks at how Twitter handled that abuse.

It found that, out of 400 Premier League players who were found to hold a Twitter account, 176 of them — 44% — received abusive messages. The research found that 20% of the abuse was directed at just four players, who the PFA did not name to avoid triggering further abuse.

The study analysed over 6m posts and ran a deeper analysis of 20,000 messages. It found 1,781 explicitly abusive messages were sent from 1,674 accounts. The tweets were reported to Twitter for removal and the accounts flagged to Twitter for sanctioning.

Just over 50% of the abusive messages were traced back to UK-based accounts, the report said, and the problem got worse as the season progressed, with racist abuse increasing by 48% in the second half of the campaign compared to the first.

A third of the verified abusive accounts were found to have an affiliation to a UK club, either as a fan, a member or a season ticket holder. The clubs concerned have been contacted directly by the PFA.

Racist abuse peaked in May, the report found, having initially dropped following the social media boycott at the start of the month.

The report attributed the spike in May to an incident in the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Leicester, compounded by the sides meeting again in the Premier League three days later.

The report also highlighted an apparent lack of action to remove the posts or hold those who posted the messages accountable.

Signify found that more than three-quarters of the 359 accounts found to be sending explicitly racist abuse to players during the season were still on the platform last month.

Only 56% of racially abusive posts identified throughout the campaign had been removed, with some remaining live for months and even the full duration of the season. Of those 56%, the report determined that 19% had been deleted by the account holder rather than Twitter.

More than 80% of targeted homophobic messages identified across the season were still visible on Twitter.

The PFA has presented its findings to the social media platform.

The PFA’s new chief executive, Maheta Molango, said: “The time has come to move from analysis to action. The PFA’s work with Signify clearly shows that the technology exists to identify abuse at scale and the people behind offensive accounts. Having access to this data means that real-world consequences can be pursued for online abuse. If the players’ union can do this, so can the tech giants.”

Twitter does not believe the report fully or fairly reflects the steps it has taken to proactively enforce its rules.

A spokesperson for the platform said: “It is our top priority to keep everyone who uses Twitter safe and free from abuse. While we have made recent strides in giving people greater control to manage their safety, we know there is still work to be done.

“We continue to take action when we identify any tweets or accounts that violate the Twitter rules. We welcome people to freely express themselves on our service, however, we have clear rules in place to address threats of violence, abuse and harassment, and hateful conduct.

“For example, in the hours after the Euro 2020 final, using a combination of machine-learning-based automation and human review, we swiftly removed over 1,000 tweets and permanently suspended a number of accounts for violating our rules — the vast majority of which we detected ourselves proactively using technology.”

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