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Iffy Onuora: 'Social media companies must do more to deal with racism'

Five black Premier League players have suffered online racial abuse this week.

Iffy Onuora has criticised social media companies for being too slow to take down racist posts after Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford became the latest player targeted.

Onuora, the 53-year-old former Gillingham and Huddersfield striker, is set to become the Premier League’s first head of equality, diversity and inclusion as football again finds itself targeted by hate crime.

Chelsea defender Reece James, West Brom’s Romaine Sawyers and Rashford’s team-mates Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial all suffered online racist abuse this week.

Arsenal v Manchester United – Premier League – Emirates Stadium
Marcus Rashford, right, was the target of online abuse after Manchester United’s 0-0 draw at Arsenal on Saturday evening (Sean Botterill/PA)

Rashford was then targeted after United’s 0-0 draw at Arsenal on Saturday evening, prompting an investigation from Greater Manchester Police and placing further scrutiny on social media platforms as the UK government plans to introduce new laws on online abuse in 2021.

Onuora told the PA News Agency: “A lot of this is now down to the responsibility of the social media companies.

“In my opinion they’ve been far too slow to take down harmful material, not just in terms of the abuse that footballers have suffered but abuse generally.

“There is technology out there that can protect this a lot quicker than they’ve been minded to move.

“The devil’s in the detail but that has started to come now, and the Government pressure from above will be far greater on social media companies to take action promptly.”

A 49-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of racially abusing Sawyers and Onuora said that was an encouraging development, insisting arrests will act as a powerful deterrent.

“He’s probably thought he can get away with it, a 49-year-old man, so we’ll see what the repercussions are for him,” he said.

“I wouldn’t wish ill on anybody in terms of family, but maybe’s he’s got a job to go to and his employers take a dim view of the publicity around it.

“That’s the way it’s got to go, for too long people have thought there’s no consequences to this. That’s the culture that’s got to change as well.

“I’m more assured about the future – it’s an education thing as well – but I’ll be more confident when people understand the repercussions.

“If lives are turned upside down, if that’s what it’s got to be, I will feel more reassured. When that comes together with social media companies taking stronger action I’ll be a lot more happy.”

Greater Manchester Police issued a statement on Sunday over comments made to United players.

“Nobody should be subject to such abuse and it is deeply upsetting not only to those that suffer it, but to all those who come across this awful language too,” the statement said.

“These hateful words have no place anywhere in our society whether online or otherwise.

“A number of these comments have been reported to us and we are liaising with those involved to provide support and we will be investigating these crimes thoroughly.”

The Professional Footballers’ Association echoed Onuora’s view that the onus should fall on the social networks.

“We have been very clear that social media platforms are an extension of a professional footballer’s workplace,” the players’ union said in a statement. “Every effort must be taken to protect them – and all other users – from racist abuse while using social media. Offline consequences for online hate crimes must be pursued whenever possible.

“Enough time has been given to the networks to demonstrate a willingness to act. We have been at crisis point with this issue for two years. Racism causes trauma and online abuse presents a significant risk to people’s mental health and well-being.

“During our initial meetings with the social networks, they advised us that players could block content that they find offensive. We do not believe the onus should be on an individual to manage the racism they receive.

“With the scale of racist abuse happening on their platforms, we are publicly asking why Twitter, Facebook and Instagram will not prevent users from being able to send explicitly racist terms and emojis? There is no context in which some words are acceptable.

“These steps won’t banish all racist abuse, but it would be a start, demonstrating that the platforms value the diverse membership of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram’s communities. While racist abuse is allowed to continue on each platform, we can only conclude that this is a choice by the companies running the social networks.”

Rashford branded the racist abuse “humanity and social media at its worst”.

He added on Twitter on Saturday night: “Yes I’m a black man and I live every day proud that I am.

“No one, or no one comment, is going to make me feel any different. So sorry if you were looking for a strong reaction, you’re just simply not going to get it here.

“I’m not sharing screenshots. It would be irresponsible to do so and as you can imagine there’s nothing original in them.”

The Football Association vowed to work with the Government and social media platforms to eradicate racism from the game, saying in a statement: “We are united with all of football in our abhorrence of any racist abuse.”

The Duke of Cambridge, the president of the FA, tweeted: “Racist abuse – whether on the pitch, in the stands, or on social media – is despicable and it must stop now.

“We all have a responsibility to create an environment where such abuse is not tolerated, and those who choose to spread hate and division are held accountable for their actions. That responsibility extends to the platforms where so much of this activity now takes place.

“I commend all those players, supporters, clubs and organisations who continue to call out and condemn this abuse in the strongest terms.”

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