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 posts, affecting seven in ten top players.
Half of that abuse was directed at 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 results shed light on a darker side of the beautiful game,” said Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s group leader for broadcast and online content.
“Online abuse has no place in sport or in wider society, and tackling it takes teamwork.”
Ronaldo and Maguire most targeted
The report identified two peaks in the frequency of abusive tweets.
The first came on the day Ronaldo returned to Manchester United on August 27, 2021, generating three times more tweets than any other day (188,769), of which 3,961 were offensive. At 2.3%, this is slightly less than the daily average.
Post volume is largely due to 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 in 97% of abusive tweets.
The second peak came on November 7 when defender Maguire tweeted an apology after Manchester United 0-2 home defeat from Manchester City.
On that occasion, 2,903 abusive tweets were sent – 10.6% of the day’s total – and many users responded to Maguire’s post with abusive or demeaning language.
The report also found that a duplicate tweet — using the exact same phrase — was sent to Maguire 69 times in two hours by different users.
The study says “it’s possible that this duplication occurred because users saw the abusive message and decided to replicate it – indicating organic organization rather than coordinated behavior.”
The Alan Turing Institute said understanding how online abuse is organized is of increasing interest given the damage done by coordinated attacks and “stacked” attacks.
Other players have been widely abused 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 came on the day.
Meanwhile, Crystal Palace’s James McArthur has also been the subject of a surge in abuse after he was booked for kicking Bukayo Saka against Arsenal in October.
Researchers will also look at whether there was a spike in an incident where the West Ham defender could be seen Kurt Zouma kicks and punches his cat came to light as this was after the data was collected.
How did the study work?
As part of its preparation to regulate tech giants under new online safety lawsOfcom has partnered with the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence, to analyze over 2.3 million tweets sent to Premier League teams in the first five months of the 2021/22 season. footballers were judged.
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 toward 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 glaring results reveal the extent to which footballers are subjected to heinous abuse on social media,” said Dr. Bertie Vidgen, lead author of the report and head of online safety at the Alan Turing Institute.
“While combating online abuse is difficult, we cannot let it go unchallenged. More needs to be done to stop the worst forms of content and ensure players can go about their work without becoming victims of abuse.”
What are the recommendations?
The UK will introduce new laws aimed at making online users safer while upholding freedom of expression, with rules for websites and apps such as social media, search engines and messaging platforms.
“Social media companies don’t have to wait for new laws to make their websites and apps safer for users,” said Ofcom’s Bakhurst.
“If we become the regulator of online safety, technology companies need to be really open about the steps they are taking to protect users. We 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 online fans are behaving responsibly, and as the new season begins, we ask that you report unacceptable, offensive posts whenever you see them.”
Twitter says it welcomes such research to improve conversations on its platforms, while citing a number of online abuse and security features it has implemented to prevent such posts from reaching individuals.
A Twitter spokesman said: “We are committed to fighting abuse and, as set out in our Hateful Conduct Policy, do not tolerate abuse or harassment of people based on race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.
“As acknowledged in the report, this type of research is only possible because our public API is open and accessible to all. However, our publicly available API does not take into account the range of safeguards we put in place, so do not fully reflect the user experience. “
Twitter said it hadn’t seen the data but claimed that 50% of all “violating content” is found through its own processes to ease a person’s burden of reporting abuse, adding, “We still know that.” there’s a lot to do.”
European football’s governing body Uefa pledged last month to work with social media platforms to tackle online abuse as part of a respect campaign during the European Women’s Championship.
Other projects alongside Sky Sports included BBC Sport’s ‘Hate Won’t Win’ campaign, while football clubs, players, athletes and a range of sports governing bodies undertook a four-day social media boycott in April 2021 to crack down on abuse and discrimination.