Twitter ‘risking 30 years of progress on racism’

Six months on from the Euro 2020 final, the social media platform has been accused of a ‘massive failure’ in dealing with online abuse.

Emily Pennink
Tuesday 11 January 2022 11:35
Sunder Katwala, of think-tank British Future, has said Twitter’s ‘failure’ to tackle racist abuse six months after the Euro 2020 final risks dragging British society back 30 years (PA)
Sunder Katwala, of think-tank British Future, has said Twitter’s ‘failure’ to tackle racist abuse six months after the Euro 2020 final risks dragging British society back 30 years (PA)

The “failure” of Twitter to tackle racist abuse six months after the Euro 2020 final risks dragging British society back 30 years, according to a prominent social commentator.

Sunder Katwala, director of independent think-tank British Future, has called for Twitter and police to do more to protect people after he was targeted alongside three England footballers last year.

Marcus Rashford Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were bombarded with racist abuse on social media after missing penalties in the shoot-out defeat to Italy at Wembley on July 11 last year.

Afterwards, police arrested 11 people and Twitter removed more than 1,900 tweets.

England footballers Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were targeted after the Euro 2020 final (Mike Egerton/PA)

Six months on, Mr Katwala, a life-long Everton fan, has accused Twitter of a “massive failure” in tackling the problem.

In November, the 47-year-old complained to the social media giant and made a police report after being called a “popadom boy (sic)” by an anonymous user of the platform.

He told the PA news agency: “At first I was quite bullish about it – that reflects my view from when I was 16 that if you are being racist to me it’s more your problem than my problem.

“It’s a problem for Twitter, let Twitter sort it out.

“And then there is an element of exhaustion.”

So far, no charges have been brought and the persona has “respawned” 41 times since last July after being repeatedly suspended or deactivated.

One incarnation of the persona tweeted an image of Rashford, Sancho and Saka with their faces crossed out as recently as New Year’s Day.

British Future director Sunder Katwala has called for Twitter and police to do more to protect people after he was targeted with racist abuse alongside three England footballers (British Future/PA)

As a teenager, Mr Katwala said he experienced incidents of overt racism inside football stadiums which is now no longer tolerated.

“We have seen big shifts in our society that are now being reversed,” he said.

“The platform’s failure feels like it has dragged us all back 20/30 years and robbed us of that progress against racism.

“It was not just that the rules were not very good – they were not enforced.”

He added: “You can be banned for life from a football stadium but you can come back as many time as you like on Twitter.”

With prominent British figures just one click away, trolls “egg each other on” and even enjoy the notoriety that comes with the “whack-a-mole” game, he suggested.

Prominent figures are just ‘one click away’ on Twitter

The Government’s draft Online Safety Bill could go further to make Twitter a safe public space for all, he said.

Asked whether people should vote with their feet, Mr Katwala said: “Earplugs for minorities is not the right thing to do.

“I think you have to hold your ground and get the space cleaned up, not say ‘I don’t want to be in a space if those people are there’.”

On Tuesday, Scotland Yard said that 16 referrals had now been made about people being racially abusive online which had resulted in one charge.

Of the rest, two people were released under investigation, one referred to a youth offending team, four subjected to “community resolutions”, six released with no further action and one referral was still under investigation.

A Twitter spokesman said: “It is our top priority to keep everyone who uses Twitter safe and free from abuse.

“We acknowledge and want to reiterate our commitment to ensuring that Twitter doesn’t become a forum that facilitates abuse and we continue to examine our own policy approaches and ways we can enforce our rules at speed and scale.

We have clear rules in place to address threats of violence, abuse and harassment and hateful conduct. It is also against our rules to circumvent permanent suspension and we take action when we identify any tweets or accounts that violate the Twitter rules

Twitter

“We have clear rules in place to address threats of violence, abuse and harassment and hateful conduct.

“It is also against our rules to circumvent permanent suspension and we take action when we identify any tweets or accounts that violate the Twitter rules.”

According to Twitter, circumventing enforcement action by creating or repurposing accounts to replace or mimic a suspended account will result in permanent suspension.

After the Euro 2020 final, the platform worked to reduce the burden on victims to report abuse by using automated tools to detect and remove offending tweets.

Among others steps, Twitter has worked on reducing the visibility of content so that victims of abuse and fewer people see it.

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