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Men’s Football Kick It Out chairman: More needs to be done to monitor online accounts

KICK It Out chairman Sanjay Bhandari believes that tackling online abuse has become a bigger problem for football given the anonymity various platforms allow its users.

Discrimination on social media is rampant, with numerous black players over the last few years across the leagues revealing the eye-watering amount of abuse they receive on their accounts.

With the Premier League season finished and a date set for the 2021-22 season, there is still uncertainty in regards to whether or not fans will be allowed back, be it socially distanced or not.

But while high-profile incidents of racism inside stadiums hasn’t disappeared, the focus has shifted to online abuse due to the rise in cases.

Speaking exclusively to the Star, Bhandari said: “Stadiums have police, stewards, CCTV — the chances of identifying people and prosecuting is higher. Online, how effective is it?

“I don’t know when fans are back inside stadiums, I don’t know when stadiums will be back to full capacity. Currently, the big problem is online and more needs to be done to monitor accounts.”

Bhandari was speaking after Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha called on social media to do more to tackle abuse on their platforms, believing that forcing users to sign up using identification would go to some way of holding people to account.

Zaha was racially abused this month by a 12-year-old boy and said that he went on to report a further 50 accounts.

Bhandari agrees with the Ivory Coast international, in that introducing a sterner verification process is the way forward. 

“I think some kind of verification of an account, of an individual [is the best possible solution going forward]. 

“If there’s any abuse and hate coming from accounts, [verification] can rapidly identify [the culprit].

“Most [social media companies] can [identify users] already but are not always quick to release details. They are way too slow to close an account.

“That’s what the Home Office is looking to do, create a duty of care by social media companies in relation to content. That would be revolutionary, nowhere in the world is that happening.”

One way to battle online abuse is through a system called Threat Matrix, developed by London-based data science company Signify, which claims to be able to source where abuse is coming from online.

Speaking to the Mail on Sunday at the start of the month, co-founder Jonathan Sebire said: “We can identify types of abuse, provide evidence of where it is coming from and, sometimes by deep-dive investigation, who it is coming from. We can capture it before it’s reported.”

Bhandari hopes that football invests in this technology, which will roughly cost £5,000 a month.

“Using artificial intelligence, working with Signify, that’s the kind of thing football needs to invest in across the leagues and club,” said Bhandari. 

“We are able to get more intelligence, see what kinds of people are the abusers, is it organised? Is it a one off? The reaction to a 12-year-old [abuser] is different to organised [abuse]. What triggers things?”

On Wednesday, Bhandari was at Wembley Stadium, where Home Secretary Priti Patel added her voice to the call for social media to play a bigger role in policing its platforms.

Given Patel’s role in the Windrush scandal and the current hostile environment faced by migrants in Britain, her involvement is likely to raise eyebrows.

However, Bhandari is of the belief that the anti-racism organisation should be working with anyone who is serious about ridding not only football, but society, of racism.

“Kick It Out is apolitical. We will work with anyone across the political spectrum who wants to eradicate racism.

“I spoke to the all-parliament group last week, spoke to Labour, and I welcome what Priti Patel said. I welcome that she agreed to meet and am glad that they are taking it seriously.”

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