Instagram announced new measures to tackle online abuse Wednesday after a series of “horrific” racist attacks on Premier League players.
A number of senior players, including the Manchester United trio of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Axel Tuanzebe, as well as Chelsea defender Reese James, have been targeted on social media in recent weeks.
Instagram said it would remove accounts used to send obscene messages.
Fazai Madzingira, content policy manager at Instagram’s parent company Facebooktold the British Press Press Association that she was “horrified” by the vitriol aimed at footballers.
“At the moment, we will set a specific ban or what we call blocking for a certain period of time when someone breaks these rules, and we extend that time if they continue to do so,” she said.
“What we’re announcing today is that we’re taking tougher action against people who break these rules in direct Instagram messages, so instead of just extending the time, we’re going to remove the accounts altogether.
“This allows us to ensure that we have a lower tolerance for this type of direct message abuse and will close these accounts faster in Instagram direct messages than anywhere else on the platform.”
The abuse is not limited to personal messages, with a number of players seeing monkey emoticons and racist terms left in the comments section of posts.
A number of these accounts appear to be focused on sending abuse, something Madzingira says Instagram continues to work as long as it points to comment filters that can block the appearance of certain words, phrases and emoticons.
“I think there’s something in the world we live in where someone can go from throwing a banana peel at a player on the field to waking up suddenly, opening accounts and using it online,” she said.
“What we’re trying to look at is the online aspect, but there’s definitely a broader conversation about what racism looks like in sports and how to stop this kind of behavior?”
Instagram says it took action on 6.5 million hate speeches, including in direct messages, between July and September last year, with 95 percent detected before anyone reported it.
The social media platform underlined its commitment to work with British law enforcement agencies on such abuses, promising to respond to valid legal requests for information.
Preventing people from hiding behind anonymous accounts has been repeatedly mentioned in football circles as a way of forcing people to be responsible for the comments they make.
But Madzingira said there were “many access difficulties”, citing examples of countries where identity documents are not easily accessible.
The Football Association has called for action by the British government to tackle the problem.
In December, ministers announced proposed legislation to tackle “online damage”, including the threat of fines for internet giants.
“As a company, we were really open,” Madzigira said. “We want to have these talks with governments. We want to talk about regulation.”
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