Twitter may not cope with World Cup abuse, says Kick It Out chair | Twitter

The chair of the anti-discrimination body Kick It Out has voiced fears that Twitter will be unable to cope with online abuse during the football World Cup, after a wave of job losses at the social media platform.

Sanjay Bhandari said he was deeply concerned by reports of cuts in the trust and safety team at Twitter, as well as the departure of the executive in charge of the department.

“I am deeply concerned that the reduction in the trust and safety team and the departure of the leader of that team will be taken as a bright green light for hate,” said Bhandari. “I fear that industrial-scale levels of hate during the World Cup will go unchecked by Twitter.”

Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, axed approximately 50% of Twitter’s 7,500-strong workforce this month. In the wake of the firings, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth, said 15% of his team had been let go.

Roth left the company soon after. Last weekend, more than 4,000 Twitter contractors, including people who worked on content moderation, reportedly had their roles terminated.

Overnight, there were reports of widespread resignations among the remaining 3,700 staff at Twitter after Musk set a 10pm GMT deadline for workers to commit to being “extremely hardcore” or else leave with three months’ severance pay.

Bhandari said moderation on Twitter had been “been opaque, inconsistent and understaffed at the best of times”, and he was concerned that the platform would struggle to cope with a rise in user engagement among football fans after the World Cup begins on Sunday.

Before Roth departed, he said, Twitter had been subjected to a coordinated trolling campaign that bombarded the platform with abusive content in an apparent attempt to convince users that it had relaxed content guidelines.

A recent study revealed that more than 300 abusive tweets a day are sent to Premier League footballers, and nearly seven in 10 players receive abuse on Twitter. The research by the Alan Turing Institute, the national institute for data science and artificial intelligence, found that 60,000 abusive tweets were directed towards Premier League players in the first half of last season.

One of the authors of the report said Twitter’s ability to deal with abuse of footballers could be affected by the jobs cuts.

“We are aware that Twitter are working with a smaller workforce,” said Pica Johansson, a researcher in the online safety team at the institute. “And there might be, for that reason, less ability for them to respond quickly to some of this type of abuse that we do see.”

The institute’s research found that less than 10% of the abusive tweets were identity attacks that referred to a protected characteristic such as race, gender or sexuality. However, Hannah Kirk, an online safety researcher at the institute, said racist or nationality-based abuse might be more prevalent at the World Cup.

“I envisage the big difference between the Premier League and the World Cup is global attention and also heightened awareness of nationalism, which potentially intensifies the stereotypical links between race and nation. We might then see a little bit more racism or nationality-directed abuse than we would in the Premier League,” Kirk said.

Nonetheless, the Football Association is confident it will be able to act if Twitter becomes a focus for abuse of its players, as it did during last year’s European championships.

Football bodies within England established a fast-track reporting system last year, and the FA has confirmed with Twitter that the same support will be available in the coming month and that resources will be made available for moderation.

The FA also uses third-party agencies to monitor for abuse and report on its behalf. This week, Fifa and the international players’ union Fifpro announced a similar scheme, a “social media protection service” (SMPS) that would be available to players in all 32 nations competing at the World Cup.

Allowing for the scanning and reporting of offensive content, the SMPS will also let players with social media accounts automatically hide comments that are judged offensive. This service will apply only to posts on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, with Twitter understood to have been excluded from the process owing to technical issues.

Twitter has been approached for comment.

Football must finally be brave enough to confront brutal facts of inequality | Football

According to the business guru Jim Collins, the journey from being a good organisation to becoming a great organisation is built on the willingness of leaders to confront the brutal facts. Productive change cannot happen without that foundation. How does football’s equality journey measure against that yardstick? Does football fully confront the brutal reality of inequality in the game? Do we honestly confront our uncomfortable truths or do we soothe ourselves with the balm of comfortable half-truths?

Recent data suggests that stubborn historical challenges remain. The Black Football Partnership revealed last week that only 4.4% of managers in England are black compared with 43% of Premier League and 34% of EFL players. PFA data shows that only 0.45% of professional footballers are South Asian (with about 0.9% in academies) despite 7-10% of the wider population of the UK being South Asian. These are just the most egregious statistical anomalies.

In the wake of the horrific killing of George Floyd in 2020, organisations raced to demonstrate their commitment to equality. Corralled by the FA, English football set up the Football Leadership Diversity Code (FLDC) with more than 50 clubs and organisations committing to achieve representation targets on race and gender for new recruits to senior leadership and coaching. It was a promise by football to address structural inequality. Two years on, how are they doing?

Judging by this year’s FLDC report, encouragingly the football authorities (the FA, the Premier League and the EFL) are leading by example, hitting seven out of eight targets. They deserve credit for keeping their side of the bargain. More worryingly, the clubs hit two out of eight targets. More must be done.

For many people from under-represented or minority communities, much of the last 50 years has been a depressing cycle of promises, raised hopes and disappointment. Football is at a crucial point and needs to make the right choices so the FLDC does not become the latest entry in a 50-year catalogue of missed opportunities, turning initial positive intent into resentment and distrust. If the collective energy and impetus generated by George Floyd’s death have run out already, what will drive sustained change?

The reflex may be to close ranks. But clubs need to confront the brutal facts. That requires courage and radical transparency.

QPR’s director of football, Les Ferdinand, pictured in June.
QPR’s director of football, Les Ferdinand, pictured in June. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Much of the problem is systemic. Les Ferdinand, QPR’s director of football, revealed last week that he was sceptical of the FLDC because it was voluntary. I believe transparency is disinfectant. My experience in other industries is that exposing the reality of the data to public scrutiny drives change. The requirement to publish data on gender pay gap reporting or ethnic board representation has driven some change in corporate Britain. In discussions around setting the FLDC targets, I suggested that the game needed to provide full transparency of entire workforces (rather than snapshots of new recruits, which would give only a partial and potentially misleading picture).

Les and I faced the same underlying barriers. Because football is unregulated, no organisation in it has the legal power to mandate transparency reporting or set representation targets. All authorities in football are membership organisations so rule changes require the consent of the members (notably, the clubs). A common fear shared by clubs is the production of league tables showing those who are good and bad at diversity. The fear of being in the bottom half of any such table prevents a majority of clubs from agreeing to sufficiently challenging public transparency. It encourages the soothing balm of half-truth.

Fragmented and opaque data is endemic in football. It applies equally to discrimination reporting, recruitment shortlisting, talent development initiatives and root-cause analysis of fan behaviour (eg the use of cocaine at matches). For a game so proficient at generating data insight on the pitch, the absence of it in areas off the pitch is stark.

Football clubs are heritage community assets so should be accountable to those communities they purport to represent. The football authorities are administrators, not regulators. As part of the fan-led review into English football, we wrote to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in September reinforcing our submissions that any independent regulator operating a club licensing system should have the power to oversee club governance. That would give any regulator powers equivalent to regulators in other industries. It could then create mandatory requirements around equality and inclusion. We urge the government to keep its promise to publish its white paper on the fan-led review swiftly and give the regulator the right powers.

Sanjay Bhandari, chair of Kick It Out, speaking at the EFL Trust conference this month.
Sanjay Bhandari speaking at the EFL Trust conference this month. Photograph: Paul Currie/Rex/Shutterstock

Regulation takes time. In the meantime, how can we know how far we have progressed on the journey to equity unless we know our starting point and the steps being taken to navigate that journey? Much of this data is already collected under the Premier League equality, diversity and inclusion standard and under FLDC – it is just not published. But collection without publication is like a secret promise to yourself that you will join the gym in the new year and finally lose that extra weight you have been carrying since last Christmas. It is far less likely to be kept than a promise made out loud to other people.

Football is uniquely powerful and can be a catalyst for social change. The FLDC cannot be allowed to become another wasted opportunity to create a game where everyone feels they belong.

Sanjay Bhandari is the chair of Kick It Out

Discrimination on rise across football, Kick It Out tells DCMS committee | Football

Football at all levels is experiencing a rise in instances of discrimination, Kick It Out’s chair, Tony Burnett, told the digital, culture, media and sport select committee on Tuesday.

Burnett was among a panel of experts to answer questions from MPs conducting an inquiry into safety at major sporting events, including issues such as personal security, accessibility and freedom from prejudice.

It comes in the wake of the trouble seen at Wembley and the Stade de France last year and worrying statistics for the 2021-22 season showing a rise in football-related arrests for the first time in almost a decade.

When asked by Damian Green whether the perception that football is going back to the 1970s and 1980s is based on anecdote or hard data, Burnett replied: “There’s definitely evidence in the space that we work in and that’s around discrimination. If you look at the UK Football Policing Unit, they released a report two weeks ago talking about a 99% increase in hate crime discrimination over the last season.

“If you look at the stats that we have around discrimination – and bear in mind that we’re only one source of reporting because 92 clubs have their own sources, which all need to come together – we see a significant increase in the year to date when it comes to incidents of discrimination.

“And that increase is across the board: it’s racism, it’s LGBTQ+ discrimination, it’s misogyny. We are seeing an increase. And it’s not just the professional game, if you look at grassroots football we’re seeing a significant double-digit increase in reports of discrimination there. I think it’s reflective of a broader dynamic in society, being absolutely honest.”

There was fan trouble outside Wembley before the final of Euro 2020
There was fan trouble outside Wembley before the final of Euro 2020 Photograph: Lee Smith/Action Images/Reuters

Burnett believes the disjointed system for collating and investigating discrimination needs to be overhauled as a matter of urgency. “We have to have transparency of discrimination-reporting data so we can see the full picture across the 92 football clubs,” he said. “That way we can see the trends but, more importantly, we can understand why the trends are occurring.”

The Football Supporters’ Association chief executive, Kevin Miles, called for a “sense of proportion” when discussing the rise in arrests for 2021-22, explaining that young fans needed to undergo an “element of socialisation” after the interruption caused by Covid.

“There are issues arising in terms of antisocial behaviour which are perhaps on the up, but we are talking about an increase in arrest figures when compared to an all-time low,” Miles said. “But some of the younger generation need to learn how you behave at football because perhaps that has been missed out on after the hiatus for Covid.”

The poor quality of stewarding was raised as a concern with low pay, lack of training and high turnover of staff pinpointed as areas that must be addressed to improve the matchday experience.

The University of Durham associate professor Dr Stacey Pope told the committee that “men’s football is not a safe, welcoming and inclusive space for women”, highlighting the lack of confidence in police and stewards to deal with incidents of misogyny, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

“Football is an operating in a vacuum here,” Pope said. We know that public attitudes towards sexism and misogyny are changing so football needs to start changing too.