As England football stars face onslaught of racism online - what's being done to stop abusers?

'This is just a consistent theme for the life of a Black footballer' says Tony Burnett, Chief Executive of Kick It Out

Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka have all been the victims of a torrent of racist abuse online following England's loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final.

Abusive messages flooded the players' social media accounts, with widespread condemnation including from England manager Gareth Southgate, the Prime Minister, and the Duke of Cambridge.

The sheer scale of the abuse, and the high profiles of those on the receiving end, has reignited questions around what is being done to stop it.

Social media companies

The social media giants have all said they work to remove offensive posts as quickly as possible, but there is often a lack of transparency about how this is done.

Twitter said it had proactively removed more than 1,000 posts over the past 24 hours which violated its policy - and had taken swift action to permanently suspend a number of accounts.

A spokesperson explained "a combination of machine learning based automation and human review" had helped identify and remove the posts, "the vast majority of which we detected ourselves proactively using technology."

“It’s just not what we stand for." England manager Gareth Southgate says the abuse directed at the players as “unforgivable”.

Twitter said it had "proactively engaged and continue to collaborate" with the footballing world "to identify ways to tackle this issue collectively".

Facebook, which also owns Instagram where much of the abuse has been directed, said it encouraged people to use the tools it offers to block abuse.

"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," a spokesperson said.

"In addition to our work to remove this content, we encourage all players to turn on Hidden Words, a tool which means no one has to see abuse in their comments or DMs.

"No one thing will fix this challenge overnight, but we’re committed to keeping our community safe from abuse."

England footballers take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement Credit: Nick Potts/PA

But industry experts have said social media companies must start requiring users to verify their identity when opening an account - to make identifying abusive users easier.

Companies have previously resisted the idea, arguing that as well as possible privacy concerns for users, it would be unfair as many people around the world lack or do not have access to an official ID.

Social media boycotts

Despite social media giants insisting they are taking action, the sporting industry has begun to take things into its own hands - boycotting all online presence.

At the end of April international teams from a whole host of different sports, clubs, players, sponsors, broadcasters, and public figures took part in a social media blackout.

The boycott ran across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter channels for three days.

Those involved called on the platforms to do more to stamp out abuse, with harsher punishments for those found guilty.

The group also pressed the government to ensure that legislation introduced in the Online Safety Bill makes social media companies more accountable for what happens on their platforms.

At the time, retired Arsenal great Thierry Henry called the boycott a “start” in the fight against racism and discrimination.

Online Harms Bill

In May, the government published its proposed bill to put a new legal duty of care on online companies to protect their UK users from harm - including people receiving abusive comments, threats and harassment online.

It's hoped the Online Harms Bill could help crack down on online racist abuse.

Under the proposal, companies will face fines or bans if they do not remove abusive posts, enforce their own community standards and prevent explicit illegal images – including intimate images shared without consent – circulating on their services.

England manager Gareth Southgate consoles players Credit: Mike Egerton/PA

It would be the first time major regulation of the internet has been introduced.

Ofcom would be made regulator of the social media giants, and given new powers to uphold and enforce the rules - including the ability to issue large fines of up to £18 million or 10% of annual global turnover – whichever is greater.

For social media giants such as Facebook, this could mean fines of several billion pounds.

But the government has also been criticised for its stance on England players taking the knee ahead of games in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner accused Boris Johnson and the Home Secretary of giving licence to the racists who abused the England players, following their stance on players taking the knee to highlight racial inequality and discrimination.

Both the Prime Minister and Priti Patel have previously described the action as “gestures”.

Mr Johnson and Ms Patel both condemned the abuse faced by England's footballers after the Euro final loss.


The Metropolitan Police said it will be investigating the "offensive and racist" social media posts directed towards members of the England football team.

In a tweet, the force said: "We are aware of a number of offensive and racist social media comments being directed towards footballers following the #Euro2020 final.

"This abuse is totally unacceptable, it will not be tolerated and it will be investigated."

But a lack of identity checks on many social media profiles can make it difficult for authorities to identify and punish abusers.