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Soccer players pressure Instagram to do more to stop racism

2021 Feb 11, 15:47,
Chelsea's Reece James, left, and Sheffield United's John Fleck challenge for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Sheffield United and Chelsea at Bramall Lane stadium in Sheffield, England, Sunday, February 7, 2021. (Photo via AP)

After soccer players in England expressed anger about being targeted with racist messages, Instagram said on Wednesday that it would disable accounts of users sending abuse.

But only repeated racism will see a user banned, Instagram acknowledged, without specifying how many messages it would take to remove an account.

“We don’t share this number publicly because we don’t want people to game our systems,” Instagram owner Facebook said in an emailed response to the Associated Press.

The British government has also being putting pressure on social media companies to do more to remove racists from their platforms.

Facebook pledged to disable accounts that send direct messages with abuse but declined to say why it had decided to act now, when players had been asking for tougher action for years. Players in England boycotted social media for 24 hours in 2019 over racism, but now Facebook is offering more specifics about the action it is taking.

“We have always been committed to tackling hate and racism on our platform, it’s an issue we take very seriously," Facebook content policy manager Fadzai Madzingira said in a statement.

Players including Chelsea defender Reece James and sister Lauren James of Manchester United have criticised Instagram's handling of racist abuse.

“Instagram doesn’t even have a clear ‘Racism’ option in their reporting system," Lauren James said after highlighting the abuse she received last week.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said tougher action must be taken.

“For too long the world’s most popular and powerful social media companies have failed to tackle the stream of horrific racist attacks on their platforms,” Dowden said. “I welcome Instagram’s improved policies but racist abuse is still a fact of life for too many people and more has to be done across the board to stamp it out.

“We’re introducing a new age of accountability for these companies through our upcoming Online Safety Bill and this could see huge fines for firms which fail to clearly and transparently protect their users.”

The global footballers' union, FIFPRO, said there has been a failure to address racism in a 'strong and unequivocal manner' by platforms including Instagram and Twitter.

“Football players who have publicly and eloquently denounced online abuse have helped to highlight the serious and repetitive nature of these attacks," FIFPRO General Secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said. "All of these players will receive our continuous support to call out the lack of care and adequate protection provided by social media companies.

“We now urgently need both national and international authorities to step in and collaborate to make these companies clean up their platforms and remove the stream of abhorrent discrimination that continues to contaminate both public channels and personal lives on every continent."

Instagram has offered to listen to ongoing concerns.

“We know there is more to be done and we will continue to work with the clubs, players and wider industry to collectively tackle this issue," Madzingira said.

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