A former Premier League footballer who resigned at the age of 28 after being bombarded with disgusting racist abuse has warned that giving fanatics a ‘free kick’ could lead a player to commit suicide.
Marvin Sordell says he doesn’t regret straying from the profession of his dreams – and said he wasn’t surprised after The Mirror’s research found that a tiny fraction of those who published racist messages were charged or arrested.
Over the course of his career, the former England Under-21 international, who represented the GB team at the 2012 Olympics, has frequently received hate messages from complete strangers – many using their real names, confident that they would not suffer any consequences.
It had a huge impact on himself and his family, and Sordell believes the lack of enforcement means racists have grown more brazen knowing the risk of punishment is low.
He said it could lead to tragedy if not resolved, saying: “We shouldn’t have to wait for this to happen to act.”
In just two years, the number of allegations of racism on social media to 23 police forces in England and Wales has climbed 144%, to 1,394 in 2020 alone.
Figures released by 10 forces – the Met, Northumbria, Staffordshire, Surrey, Humberside Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Leicestershire, Cambridgeshire and Cleveland – show they only charged 41 people between 2018 and 2020 despite receiving more than 1,400 complaints.
Sordell, now 30, said: “It’s pretty clear to see that people can make any comments they want because they know the likelihood of them being a) found and b) charged is very rare.
“If you think about the number of cases where people have suffered consequences, you can probably google them and name them all, which is quite telling considering the number of abuses being sent.”
In August, the former Watford, Burnley and Bolton striker told a select committee of MPs that tackling player racism was not being treated as a priority.
“I have been the victim of racist abuse, I have received death threats, I have received threats of various kinds,” he told the Mirror.
“Sometimes it can be easier to deal with than others. One of the things we forget is that we all have families and friends who are on social media and they see it too.
“Having to navigate which isn’t necessarily always taken into account. People see finances as a hedge against reality, but they don’t, reality is reality.”
He echoed a warning from former England star Anton Ferdinand, who warned that the abuse could lead a player to commit suicide.
“People don’t take into account how traumatic it is at the end of any kind of abuse, especially racist abuse, is – it’s not something to be taken lightly,” said Sordell.
“When you say someone might kill themselves, some might say it’s not that bad, but it still is. We shouldn’t have to wait for that to happen to take action.”
The former Premier League star, who now runs a production company and works as a speaker and writer, has done a lot of advocacy work around mental health, having battled depression for many years.
He said educating offenders should be a key part of tackling online abuse.
“Racism has been around in football for as long as I know it, and as long as the previous generation has known it, but it has found new support,” he said.
“We’re talking about expelling racism, but all we’ve done is move it to another place.”
Sordell believes social media should step up efforts and work with authorities to ensure those who post racist and abusive posts are punished.
“The point is, every social media company has the IP address even without having the data about people that they know where they are,” he said.
“They have this ability.”
Nonetheless, the former attacker said he would receive hate messages from accounts with real names of people.
“It’s a wake-up call to find out where we are at,” he said. “It shows that people feel like it’s okay to do it, they don’t feel like they’re going to be punished.”
He thinks every social network should verify those who have created an account, even if their real name is not visible on their profile.
Sordell said: “If I reported them to the police, the police should be able to find out who they are. The problem is not that I can see their names, it is that they are held to be. responsible. “
Social media companies have faced growing calls for action in recent months, with football clubs staging a boycott earlier this year and widespread condemnation of the racism directed at Three Lions stars Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka after the Euro 2020 final.
But Sordell said it was far too early to say if it would have a lasting impact.
BBC / Wonder TV / Chris Bull)
Earlier this year, former Premier League compatriot Anton Ferdinand told a small parliamentary committee: “My concern is what the social media companies are waiting for? suicide or that a member of their family commits suicide.
“Is this what they are waiting for? Because if this is what they are waiting for, it’s too late. Let’s deal with the problem now.”
The 36-year-old added that businesses should use technology to identify inappropriate tweets before they are sent, and spoke of the need to know the identity of an account owner, at least for businesses themselves.
“They don’t want to implement the technology because if I retweet a racist tweet that was sent to me, the frenzy surrounding it is monetary to them,” he said.
The Mirror sent a list of questions to Facebook, asking for a breakdown of how many racism complaints it had received and how many times it had provided details to police.
The network says it is proactive, removing more than 33 million hate speech content, 93% before it is reported, and says incidents have declined slightly in the first three months of the year.
He says he responds to police “requests for valid legal information” and works with police chiefs to improve cooperation.
A spokesperson said: “No one should have to face racist abuse anywhere, and we don’t want it on Facebook or Instagram. We share the goal of holding people who share this content to account and we do so by taking action on content and accounts that break our rules and by working with the police.
“We respond as quickly as possible to requests for valid legal information and are convinced that the information we provide is useful for police investigations.
“We also encourage people to activate Hidden Words, a tool that means no one should see abuse in their comments or private messages. Nothing will solve this challenge overnight, but we are committed to protecting our community from harm. abuse.”
A Twitter spokesperson said the company “does not condone abuse or harassment of people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender , gender identity, religious affiliation, age, caste, disability or illness “.
The social media giant says it is removing content that breaks its rules, including “dehumanizing language”, “hate images and emojis.”
Twitter has rules in place to deal with threats of violence, abuse and harassment and has emphasized that it takes action when it finds accounts that violate them.
However, the spokesperson added that technology alone is not enough to solve the problem. They therefore work with other organizations to combat racism and meet regularly with the Met police.
Anyone wishing to report violations can do so here https://help.twitter.com/en/forms/law-enforcement