Joanne O’Riordan: The endless cycle of online abuse churns on and on

Everyone offers immediate help but few solutions to problem that's getting worse

BT Sport presenter  Karen Carney received toxic comments, death threats and outright sexism after Leeds United picked up on some of her comments in a tweet. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

BT Sport presenter Karen Carney received toxic comments, death threats and outright sexism after Leeds United picked up on some of her comments in a tweet. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

 

I don’t tend to get threats or death threats. The odd thing will come in, but I always feel it’s my brother or friends hiding behind anonymous profiles to get me back for something I did to them in a previous life. But, they still come. Some people say I’m annoying, some people say who cares about my articles, but this is general stuff I’m used to and almost expect.

But certain things are happening on social media that unfortunately should not be the norm and shouldn’t be expected from a normal functioning society. Racist and sexist abuse, along with threats of rape and death, are slowly becoming the norm. Like every contentious hot potato, it’s being tossed around with nobody taking responsibility.

It all kicked off when the Leeds United social media admin decided Karen Carney would be subject to the next tweet filled with “bantz”. Generally speaking, they’ve been doing it for quite some time, taking a soundbite of a pundit or former footballer basically saying Leeds were no good and critiquing their style of play. Essentially, putting pundits out to the wolves of Twitter is funny and “top bantz”.

However, when they did it with BT and Amazon Prime pundit Carney, the “bantz” ended there. While the replies to male punditry were generally “they don’t know what they’re talking about”, the replies for Carney’s were immediately filled with toxic comments, death threats and outright sexism.

The ridiculous line excusing their behaviour? At least they treated Karen, a decorated English midfielder who has appeared at four European Championships, four World Cups and is the second most capped England player, with equality by making her a meme.

But the routine abuse doesn’t end there for Carney and so many others. Twitter, Instagram, and many other sites are slowly becoming a toxic wasteland for people to say things.

Patrick O’ Brien, the Kerry teenager who admitted racially abusing Ian Wright on Instagram after losing a Fifa game, escaped a criminal conviction earlier this month.

On Instagram, the family of James McClean expressed their frustration at the sectarian abuse they were getting. Not only were they referring to James McClean as a “fenian bastard”, some were messaging his brother discussing how they were going to tie McClean to a chair and burn him in front of his children. 

Lauren James, a 19-year-old Manchester United Women’s player, found herself on the receiving end of racist comments on Instagram, despite the fact she had not played at the game. Casey Stoney, the MUWFC manager, said it best, leaving social media because of trolls would mean “you lose your voice”.

So, where does that leave us overall?

During last season, 287 of the 2,663 football fixtures played in England and Wales – more than 10 per cent – featured at least one incident of hate crime, according to the Home Office in the UK. Racist or indecent chanting arrests rose by 150 per cent, even though fans haven’t been at games since March.

The courts haven’t dealt with it, the football family (whatever that means) just release updated slogans when something pops up, and social media companies clearly can’t deal with it. Yes, people shouldn’t be doing it, but we’ve seen how stupid and ignorant people can be.

That leaves it up to players, coaches and other public figures, which is totally irresponsible. It’s getting so bad, Andrew Stroehlein from Human Rights Watch has tweeted how to deal with online abuse, simple steps to dealing with online abuse since nobody else is willing to make it stop.

The steps are quite simple: don’t share anything, don’t retweet, no screenshots and just try not to interact with it and hope it goes away. But when people are sliding into your DMs saying they’re going to rape or kill you, how do you hold your breath until it goes away? How do you ignore monkey emojis under a picture of you playing football?

Instagram says it is going to ban accounts that send racist abuse. Those involved in the English game have written to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, asking them to take this seriously.

But Twitter and Facebook are not going to just hand over your data to the police, this is against your privacy rights. And while it’s cool Twitter, Instagram and Facebook can follow you around collecting every Google search, every word uttered by you during conversations and bombard you with ads. But God forbid that data is handed over to police when a crime has been committed.

The cycle will forever be the same, abuse is sent. Statements are issued. Everyone offers immediate help but with minimal solutions. Then it fades, then you’re less angry, and then you move on. The abuse continues, but like every good whack-a-mole, it only rears its head to taunt you.

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