It was appalling to see the racist messages posted on Twitter towards Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli on Sunday afternoon. Sadly, this type of abuse has been commonplace on social media platforms for some time now, and the problem is escalating.
At Kick It Out, football's organisation for equality and inclusion, we have extended our support to Mario by contacting his club and the Professional Footballers’ Association, and forwarded the evidence we had compiled from Twitter to True Vision – an online reporting facility set up by the Police. I have also been in direct contact with Merseyside Police.
I was appointed as Kick It Out’s first full-time Reporting Officer in October 2013 and my job focuses on dealing with racist and discriminatory incidents within English football – whether it occurs in the professional game, at grassroots level or on social media.
My role sees me liaising closely with The Football Association, the Premier League, the Football League, the Police, professional football clubs and grassroots teams about incidents which occur, and I offer support and advice to victims and complainants.
During the 2013/14 season, we saw a 269 per cent increase in reports filed to us when compared to the year previous, and there was a dramatic rise in the level of social media complaints. In fact, out of 284 incidents that were reported, half were related to abuse on social media.
The unique thing about sites like Twitter is how you are able to interact with people all over the world at the touch of a button. But there are some who decide to overstep the mark, and use this opportunity to direct abuse at others. This is where a great deal of concern lies.
The anonymity you can gain on social media can make it very difficult for the authorities to track down offenders. However, there has been a number of cases which continue to act as reminders to users online that posting discriminatory and abusive remarks will not be tolerated.
Last season, one incident led to a 21-year-old man from London being convicted and fined £150 after they posted an anti-Semitic remark on our official Facebook page. The Police were able to locate the perpetrator with the evidence provided and the case was closed in less than three months.
Another saw a Restorative Justice outcome accepted by a man in his forties from Norfolk after he posted an offensive comment on Facebook directed at former Norwich City manager Chris Hughton. The individual concerned met with our staff for a rehabilitation session and issued a full apology.
This gives you a snapshot of how we as an organisation are dealing with social media abuse; but the problem extends much wider than just football. A collaborative approach is needed to tackle the issue, with the emphasis on social media sites.
At Kick It Out we call on all social media users that witness or receive discriminatory abuse, or to report it directly to True Vision so that it can be dealt with appropriately by the authorities. There is no place for this behaviour, and it is disheartening to see such attitudes still exist.
Anna Jӧnsson is Reporting Officer at Kick It OutReuse content