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Rio Ferdinand reveals impact of racist abuse online in joint committee meeting

A Home Affairs committee has heard of the racist online abuse received by Rio Ferdinand with the former England captain revealing the extent to which the abuse has affected his family. 

Ferdinand, who has been vocal about the need to clamp down on online abuse, gave evidence of his experience with the Online Safety Bill still in its draft stage.

The former England captain revealed that the impact of the abuse extends beyond any one individual.

“I’ve seen members of my family disintegrate at times, I’ve seen other sports stars’ family members taking it worse than the actual person who’s receiving the abuse.”

He added that the abuse has put him in a position where he has had to tell his child about derogatory use the use of monkey emojis online.

“I have to sit there and have breakfast with my kids and explain to them what the monkey emoji means in that context, what the banana means. ‘Why is there a banana under your (social media) post? What’s that about?’”

On the post Euro 2020 final abuse

The abhorrent abuse following the Euro 2020 final has been covered here and elsewhere. Ferdinand’s expectation of the events which unfolded after full time reflected the reaction of many black people immediately after the shootout.

“When those three players missed those penalties, the first thing I thought was ‘let’s see what happens on social media. I expected (the abuse) to happen.”

In the 24 hours immediately after the final, Twitter removed 1622 abusive tweets directed at England players. Of that total, 90% were removed ‘proactively’.

The need to act now

A day earlier, the former England Captain’s younger brother Anton had also given evidence to the committee. Anton, who has documented the impact of online abuse on the BBC’s ‘Anton Ferdinand: Football, Racism and Me’ was unequivocal in his belief that social media companies cannot continue to leave the issue unchecked.

“Are they waiting for a high-profile footballer to kill themselves, or a member of their family to commit suicide?”

“Is that what they are waiting for? Because if that is what they are waiting for, that is too late.”

The solution which has received the most support is the implementation of online identification. Following the euro 2020 final, an e-petition to make verified ID a requirement for opening a social media account was launched, gaining nearly 700,000 signatures.

Twitter is not the only social media platform where rampant abuse has been highlighted, but analysis of the post euro events suggested identification would have been unlikely to prevent the flurry of abuse that occurred. Twitter claim that 99% of account owners from which the abuse originated were identifiable.

The recommendation for a ‘layered’ approach to accessing social media platforms was put forward by Edleen John, the Football Association’s director of international relations and equality.

“When it comes to verification, social media companies seem to believe that it’s a binary option, an on-off switch where people have to provide all information or no information,” John said.

“What we believe is that there are multiple layers and multiple mechanisms which could be used in combination that could be used to tackle this issue.

“ID verification is one element, default settings could be another, the limiting of reach could be another.

“The reason we think it has to be a layering is because when we look at the volume of abuse that is received across the world of football, we see that a lot of the abuse is coming from ‘burner’ accounts, where people set up an account, send abusive messages, delete an account and are able to re-register another account within moments.”

Mayowa Ayodele

Notes to editor:

  1. OBV seeks to confront persistent racial inequalities by politically empowering Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, particularly the disadvantaged, and young people; nurturing BAME individuals so that they can take up roles in our civic, political, decision-making and community spaces; and to help transform institutions to become more inclusive, modern and representative.
  2. OBV uses the terms Black and BAME as an intersectional and inclusive term to include, African, Arab, Asian Caribbean, Chinese, and other BAME backgrounds.


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