Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire have received the most Twitter abuse of any Premier League player, according to a new report.
Ofcom’s analysis of 2.3 million tweets in the first half of last season revealed nearly 60,000 abusive messages, affecting seven in 10 top-flight players.
Half of those abuses targeted just 12 people – eight from United.
However, the Alan Turing Institute study also found that the vast majority of fans use social media responsibly.
“These findings highlight a darker side to the beautiful game,” said Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom Group Director for Broadcast and Online Content.
“Online abuse has no place in sport, or in society at large, and addressing it requires a team effort.”
Ronaldo and Maguire most targeted
The report identified two spikes in the frequency of abusive tweets.
The first came on the day Ronaldo joined Manchester United on August 27, 2021, generating three times as many tweets as any other day (188,769), of which 3,961 were abusive. At 2.3%, that’s slightly below the daily average.
The volume of posts can largely be explained by Ronaldo’s 98.4 million followers. On that day, the Portuguese striker was mentioned in 90% of all tweets aimed at Premier League footballers and 97% of abusive tweets.
The second spike came on November 7 when defender Maguire tweeted an apology after Manchester United. 2-0 loss at home by Manchester City.
On this occasion, 2,903 abusive tweets were sent – 10.6% of the total that day – and many users reacted to Maguire’s message with insulting or degrading language.
The report also revealed that a duplicate tweet – using the exact same phrase – had been sent to Maguire 69 times by different users in two hours.
The study says “it is possible that this duplication occurred because users saw the abusive message and decided to reproduce it – indicating organic organization rather than coordinated behavior.”
The Alan Turing Institute said understanding the organization of online abuse is of growing interest given the damage caused by coordinated attacks and “piling up”.
Other players were targeted with high volumes of abuse following a “trigger”, despite receiving relatively few tweets overall.
Newcastle defender Ciaran Clark, now on loan at Sheffield United, was sent off against Norwich in November, with 78% of the abusive tweets he received that day.
Meanwhile, Crystal Palace’s James McArthur also faced a spike in abuse after being shown a yellow card for stepping on Bukayo Saka against Arsenal in October.
Researchers will also examine whether a spike took place in an incident which saw West Ham defend themselves Kurt Zouma kicks and slaps his pussy appeared because it happened after the data was collected.
How did the study go?
As part of its preparation to regulate the tech giants under new online safety lawsOfcom has partnered with the Alan Turing Institute, Britain’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence, to analyze more than 2.3 million tweets aimed at Premier League footballers in the first five months of the 2021-22 season.
The study created new machine learning technology to automatically assess whether tweets are abusive, while a team of experts also manually reviewed a random sample of 3,000 tweets.
Of this sample, 57% were positive towards the players, 27% were neutral and 12.5% were critical. The remaining 3.5% were abusive.
Of the 2.3 million tweets analyzed with the machine learning tool, 2.6% contained abuse.
“These stark findings reveal just how despicable abuse footballers are being subjected to on social media,” said Dr Bertie Vidgen, lead author of the report and head of online safety at the Alan Turing Institute.
“While fighting online abuse is difficult, we cannot leave it unchallenged. More needs to be done to stop the worst forms of content, to ensure gamers can do their job without being victimized. of abuse.”
What are the recommendations?
The UK is set to introduce new laws aimed at making online users safer, while safeguarding freedom of expression, with rules for sites and apps such as social media, search engines search and messaging platforms.
“Social media companies don’t need to wait for new laws to make their sites and apps safer for users,” said Ofcom’s Bakhurst.
“As we become the regulator of online security, technology companies will need to be very open about the steps they take to protect users. We will expect them to design their services with security in mind. .
“Fans can also play a positive role in protecting the game they love. Our research shows that the vast majority of fans online behave responsibly and as the new season kicks off, we ask them to report any unacceptable and abusive messages every time they see them.”
Twitter says it welcomes such research to help improve conversations on its platforms, while highlighting a number of online abuse and safety features it has implemented to prevent such messages from to reach individuals.
A Twitter spokesperson said: “We are committed to combating abuse and, as stated in our hateful conduct policy, we do not tolerate abuse or harassment of people on the basis of race, race, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.
“As the report acknowledges, this type of research is only possible because our public API is open and available to everyone. However, our publicly available API does not take into account the range of safeguards we put in place. , so it doesn’t completely reflect the user experience.”
Twitter said it had not seen the data, but said 50% of all “violent content” is found through its own processes to help an individual report abuse, adding “we know there is still work to do”.
European football’s governing body UEFA last month pledged to work with social media platforms to tackle online abuse as part of a Respect campaign during the European Women’s Championship.
Other projects have included BBC Sport’s Hate Won’t Win campaign, alongside Sky Sports, while in April 2021 football clubs, players, athletes and a number of sporting bodies undertook a four-day social media boycott in an attempt to tackle abuse and discrimination. .