Marcus Rashford: Racist abuse of Man Utd forward shows social media companies' rules are inadequate, says Iffy Onuora

The racist abuse of Marcus Rashford following the Europa League final was “appalling” and underlines how social media companies have “inadequate” protocols to deal with discrimination on their platforms, according to the Premier League’s head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Iffy Onuora.

Rashford was the target of “at least 70 racial slurs” after Manchester United lost the final in Gdansk on Wednesday. Goalkeeper David de Gea missed the spot-kick which saw Villarreal win their first-ever major trophy and the Spaniard was also subjected to abusive messages, along with a number of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s players.

On Thursday, Rashford detailed the nature of some of the messages he received, revealing that one racist message came from a person claiming to be a maths teacher.

Greater Manchester Police has confirmed it is investigating the abuse, while in a club statement United said they are “disgusted” and urged technology companies to strengthen measures to combat rising levels of online hate.

Onuora told Sky Sports News: “I’m sickened for Marcus. You think of all the work he has done in the last year for school meals and children, who should be subjected to that? It’s absolutely appalling.

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“David de Gea got some abuse as well on social media. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time and it brings things back into focus and the social media companies have to do a lot more than what they’re doing.

“We have heard a lot of words from the social media companies and even with the Premier League at the moment, we are doing a lot of work that the social media companies should be doing around taking down and highlighting abuse and we have minimal resources compared to those companies who turn over billions.

“There is a lot more that social media companies can do, they’ve got to hold users more accountable for abusive content, they’ve got to work with law enforcement and they’ve got to put in effective verification.

“The amount that Marcus and David received shows that the [response to the] abuse is simply inadequate.

“These accounts should be shut down. There is a digital trail where some people are stopping one account and then starting another. These things are not beyond the whit of technology companies.

“There is an awful lot of work being done by tech companies so in some ways there is progress but we need that accountability from social media companies to take that responsibility.”

At least 70 racial slurs on my social accounts counted so far. For those working to make me feel any worse than I already do, good luck trying πŸ‘πŸΎ

After a philanthropic year off the field during which Rashford led a campaign aimed at tackling child food poverty, forced a U-turn on free school meals policy from the UK government which saw 1.7m vulnerable kids supported, and launched a book club to get disadvantaged children reading more, the 23-year-old met with former United States president Barack Obama on a video call to discuss his community work.

Their discussion centred around the importance of reading and giving back to your local community with Rashford describing the experience as “surreal”.

Rashford, who also received racist messages online back in January, remained defiant in the wake of the abuse directed towards him on Wednesday and Onuora praised the 23-year-old’s mature demeanour in facing the discrimination, following a year of championing social injustices.

He said: “I’m aware he’s a strong character but it shouldn’t be up to him to be a strong character but he is, he’s an absolute role model for his family and his community.

“I read something about him doing a Zoom call with Barack Obama which shows how far his reach has gone outside these shores and people in the game, people close to him should be immensely proud of him.”

‘I hope Online Safety Bill can cut through’

The draft Online Safety Bill legislation, which the government unveiled plans about earlier this month, covers a range of content aimed at holding social media companies to greater levels of accountability concerning safeguarding users on their platforms and implementing robust punishments for abusers. It is also warning of multi-million pounds for organisations that do not comply with the new rules.

A virtual event this week jointly-hosted by the FA, the Premier League, the EFL, Kick It Out and the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for digital regulation and responsibility was also attended by former Arsenal and France striker Thierry Henry and Manchester City defender Lucy Bronze who discussed their experiences of facing online abuse.

Sky Sports joined the sporting community in a social media boycott earlier this month where broadcasters, clubs, teams and players came off their platforms for a weekend in protest over rising levels of discrimination.

Like the FA’s equality director Edleen John, Onuora hopes that the new legal powers will enable robust consequences for online abusers and carry real clout in terms of forcing social media companies to properly address the problem.

He added: “We’ve invested a lot in terms of the Online Harms Bill which is going through parliament. We had a round table during the week with people like Lucy Bronze and Thierry Henry there and [they] discussed their experiences.

“The positive thing was there was lots of politicians in there hearing some of these accounts, so that should stir them into action and make them ensure that the Online Harms Bill is effective, carries some real power, has teeth, and cuts through.

“My message would be to the social media companies would be, do you have to wait for that legislation to come through which could be 12 months away?

“There are things they could do now such as filtering systems on Facebook and Instagram, can they go further and put those things in place before that bill comes through parliament.”

“We need some real-life consequences. It sends such a powerful message that perpetrators are being fined, are being brought to justice, are being named and shamed so that should send that powerful message that this abuse is not acceptable and won’t be tolerated.”

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Kick It Out reporting racism

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Kick It Out is football’s equality and inclusion organisation – working throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and campaign for positive change.

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