October 4, 2022


Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo
Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo were among eight Manchester United players in the top 10 who were abused

Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire have received the most abuse on Twitter 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 found nearly 60,000 abusive posts, affecting seven of the top 10 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 findings shine a light on a dark side of the beautiful game,” said Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s group director for broadcasting and online content.

“Online abuse has no place in sport, nor in wider society, and tackling it requires a team effort.”

Abused players

Ronaldo and Maguire more targeted

The report identified two peaks in the frequency of abusive tweets.

The first came on the day Ronaldo returned to Manchester United on 27 August 2021, generating three times as many tweets as any other day (188,769), of which 3,961 were abusive. At 2.3%, which is marginally lower than the daily average.

The volume of posts can be largely attributed to Ronaldo’s 98.4 million followers. On this day the Portuguese forward was mentioned in 90% of all tweets aimed at Premier League footballers and 97% of abusive tweets.

The second peak came on November 7, when defender Maguire apologized after Manchester United. home defeat 2-0 from Manchester City.

Tweet by Harry Maguire
Maguire’s tweet followed a string of poor results for Manchester United

On this occasion, 2,903 abusive tweets were sent – 10.6% of the total that day – with many users reacting to Maguire’s post with abusive or derogatory language.

The report also found that a duplicate tweet – using the exact same phrase – was sent to Maguire 69 times by different users within two hours.

The study says that “it is possible that this overlap occurred because users saw the abusive message and decided to reproduce it – indicating organic organization rather than coordinated behavior.”

The Alan Turing Institute said understanding the organization of online abuse is of growing interest given the harm caused by coordinated attacks and “stacks”.

Other players were targeted for large volumes of abuse after a “trigger”, despite receiving relatively few tweets overall.

Newcastle defender Ciaran Clarke, now on loan at Sheffield United, was sent off against Norwich in November, with 78% of the abusive tweets he received coming on that day.

Meanwhile, Crystal Palace’s James MacArthur was also the subject of peak abuse after being shown a yellow card for stepping on Boukayo Saka against Arsenal in October.

Investigators will also look into whether there was a spike when an incident saw the West Ham defender Kurt Zouma kicks and slaps his cat came to light as this was done after the data was collected.

How did the study work?

As part of its preparation for the regulation of technological giants under the new internet safety lawsOfcom worked with the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence, to analyze more than 2.3 million tweets directed at Premier League footballers during the first five months of the 2021 season- 22.

The study created a 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 towards the players, 27% were neutral and 12.5% ​​were critical. The remaining 3.5% were abusive.

Of the 2.3 million tweets analyzed by the machine learning tool, 2.6% contained abuse.

“These stark findings reveal the extent to which footballers suffer violent abuse on social media,” said Dr Bertie Vidgen, lead author of the report and head of online safety at the Alan Turing Institute.

“While tackling online abuse is difficult, we can’t let it go unchallenged. More needs to be done to stop the worst forms of content, to ensure players can do their jobs without being abused.”

Abuse aimed at footballers

What are the recommendations?

The UK is to introduce new laws aimed at making online users safer while preserving freedom of expression, with rules for websites and apps such as social media, search engines and messaging platforms.

“Social media companies do not need to wait for new laws to make their websites and apps safer for users,” Ofcom’s Bakhurst said.

“When we become the regulator for internet security, tech companies will have to be really open about the steps they take to protect users. We’ll expect them to design their services with security in mind.

“Supporters can also play a positive role in protecting the game they love. Our research shows that the vast majority of online fans behave responsibly and, as the new season begins, we’re asking them to report objectionable, abusive posts whenever they see them.”

Twitter says it welcomes such research to help improve conversations on its platforms, while also pointing to a number of online abuse and safety features it has implemented to prevent such posts from reaching people.

A Twitter spokesperson said: “We are committed to fighting abuse and, as described in our Hateful Conduct Policy, we do not tolerate abuse or harassment of people based on race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.

“As the report acknowledges, this type of research is only possible because our public API is open and accessible to everyone. However, our publicly accessible API does not take into account the breadth of safeguards we have put in place, so this does not fully reflect user experience.”

Twitter said it had not seen the data, but claimed that 50% of all “infringing content” is detected by its own processes to help an individual report abuse, adding that “we know there is still work to be done”.

European football’s governing body UEFA last month pledged to work with social media platforms to tackle online abuse as part of a Respect campaign during the European Women’s Championship.

Other projects include BBC Sport’s Hate Won’t Win campaign, alongside Sky Sports, while in April 2021 football clubs, players, athletes and several sporting bodies undertook a four-day social media boycott in an attempt to tackle abuse and discrimination. .

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