Ofcom analysis of 2.3 million tweets in the first half of last season found nearly 60,000 abusive posts, affecting seven in 10 top-flight players.
Half of that abuse was directed at just 12 individuals – eight from United. However, the study by the Alan Turing Institute also found the vast majority of fans use social media responsibly.
“These findings shed light on a dark side to the beautiful game,” said Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s group director for broadcasting and online content.
“Online abuse has no place in sport, nor in wider society, and tackling it requires a team effort.”
The UK is set to introduce new laws aimed at making online users safer, while preserving freedom of expression. The Online Safety Bill will introduce rules for sites and apps such as social media, search engines and messaging platforms – as well as other services that people use to share content online.
To download the full report about Twitter abuse of football players go to Ofcom’s website here.
What Ofcom found
- The vast majority of fans use social media responsibly. Of the manually-reviewed random sample of 3,000 tweets, 57% were positive towards players, 27% were neutral and 12.5% were critical. However, the remaining 3.5% were abusive. Similarly, of the 2.3 million tweets analysed with the machine-learning tool, 2.6% contained abuse.
- Hundreds of abusive tweets are sent to footballers every day. While the proportion of abusive tweets might be low, this still amounts to nearly 60,000 abusive tweets directed towards Premier League players in just the first half of the season – an average of 362 every day, equivalent to one every four minutes. Around one in twelve personal attacks (8.6%) targeted a victim’s protected characteristic, such as their race or gender.
- Seven in every ten Premier League players are targeted. Over the period, 68% of players (418 out of 618) received at least one abusive tweet, and one in fourteen (7%) received abuse every day.
- A handful of players face a barrage of abuse. Ofcom recorded which footballers were targeted, and found that half of all abuse towards Premier Leaguers is directed at twelve particular players. These players each received an average of 15 abusive tweets every day.
Among those who came across abuse, more than half (51%) said they found the content extremely offensive, but a significant proportion didn’t take any action in response (30%). Only around one in every four (26%) used the flagging and reporting tools to alert the abusive content to the platform, or marked the content as junk.