Facebook and Twitter Under Fire After England Soccer Players Face Racial Abuse Online

Eddie Keogh - The FA | The FA Collection via Getty Images
  • Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were the target of racial abuse on social media platforms after England lost the Euros tournament Sunday.
  • Facebook and Twitter say they acted quickly to remove posts and accounts hurling racist abuse at Black England players.
  • The British government is aiming to crack down on large tech companies over the proliferation of harmful content.

LONDON — Facebook and Twitter are being criticized over a failure to act fast enough to tackle a flood of racial abuse directed at Black England soccer players following the team's loss to Italy in the Euros final.

Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were the target of a torrent of racist comments on major social media platforms after England lost Sunday. The three players missed penalties in a 3-2 shootout loss to Italy.

The Football Association governing body condemned the abuse in a statement Sunday night, saying it was "appalled by the online racism that has been aimed at some of our England players on social media."

"We could not be clearer that anyone behind such disgusting behaviour is not welcome in following the team," the association said on Twitter. "We will do all we can to support the players affected while urging the toughest punishments possible for anyone responsible."

The racist reaction highlighted the amount of online abuse on social networks and raised questions over whether tech companies are doing enough to combat it. Several top British sports teams and athletes boycotted Facebook, Instagram and Twitter over a weekend in April to protest the companies' failure to remove racist and sexist posts.

The British government is aiming to crack down on large tech companies over the proliferation of harmful content. Proposed legislation known as the Online Safety Bill would give media watchdog Ofcom the power to fine companies up to £18 million ($24.9 million) or 10% of their annual global revenues, whichever is higher, for breaches.

"I share the anger at appalling racist abuse of our heroic players," British Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said in a tweet Monday morning.

"Social media companies need to up their game in addressing it and, if they fail to, our new Online Safety Bill will hold them to account with fines of up to 10 per cent of global revenue."

Another U.K. politician, Conservative member of Parliament Damian Collins, took aim at Facebook, asking the tech giant how many accounts it had deleted given its terms of service prohibit hate speech.

A Facebook spokesperson said the company moved quickly to take down racial abuse aimed at England players on its Instagram photo-sharing app.

"No one should have to experience racist abuse anywhere, and we don't want it on Instagram," the spokesperson said. "We quickly removed comments and accounts directing abuse at England's footballers last night and we'll continue to take action against those that break our rules."

"The abhorrent racist abuse directed at England players last night has absolutely no place on Twitter," a Twitter spokesperson told CNBC.

"In the past 24 hours, through a combination of machine learning based automation and human review, we have swiftly removed over 1000 Tweets and permanently suspended a number of accounts for violating our rules — the vast majority of which we detected ourselves proactively using technology."

Some offensive tweets and Instagram posts were still up at about 1 p.m. London time Monday, however.

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