Bukayo Saka was one of three England players who received racist abuse on social media following their defeat in the Euro 2020 final. But what does Twitter’s new racism report tell us about the steps they’re taking to eradicate abuse on their platform?
Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.
One story every day to make sense of the world of football.
Today… the story of Bukayo Saka and the Twitter report.
Back in September 2001, England pulled off a famous 5-1 win over Germany in a World Cup Qualifier.
Four days after that game, Bukayo Saka was born in Ealing, London.
His Nigerian parents – who had moved to the UK for work before he was born – named him Bukayo, which means “adds to happiness” in Yoruba.
And since breaking into the Arsenal first team at just 17, he’s done plenty of that.
Saka has represented England at all youth levels, and made his under-21 debut in September last year.
He impressed Gareth Southgate so much that he moved up to the full side less than a month later, and Saka was then included in the Euro 2020 squad.
Being dropped into a tournament at the age of just 19 might’ve been too much for some players, but Saka says he wasn’t necessarily “surprised” that it happened. Instead he said he just “wanted to leave a better player than he came.”
His performances were so good that he played 273 minutes at Euro 2020, and became the youngest ever England player to be handed a start in the semi-final of a major tournament.
“The problem with England isn’t who’s going to play, but when they come into the team they’ve got to show why they’re in the starting line-up. And I think he’s learnt a lot about the next game now, because the way Saka played today… he can’t be dropped. He was absolutely outstanding.”Micah Richards, BBC Sport
You know where I’m heading though… don’t you?
No matter how impressive his performances were, the memory we were all left with was when Saka missed the decisive penalty for England in the final versus Italy.
He said that he knew what awaited him on social media immediately after that miss. In truth, so did we.
“England’s defeat has sent an expectant nation into mourning. But a minority of fans resorted to creating trouble. Three English players have been targeted with racist abuse on social media following their miss in the penalty shootout. England players Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka were all targeted.”WION news
His accounts were bombarded with racist comments.
And while lots of people condemned the abuse, they were also quick to say people were hiding behind “anonymous accounts” or “sending abuse from outside of England”.
They said that it was a shame a “minority” spoiled things for the supportive majority, and that if Twitter insisted on ID verification for all accounts, the problem would be smaller.
And for a while now, social media companies have been under pressure to address the abuse.
A recent statement from Twitter dispelled some of the myths that had emerged in the aftermath of those missed penalties.
They said that their systems removed 1,622 abusive tweets during the final and the 24 hour period afterwards.
In looking to find a greater level of understanding about the users that were suspended as a result, Twitter revealed:
- The vast majority of the Tweets originated in England
- 99 per cent of the accounts involved were not anonymous, which also meant ID verification would not have helped.
But of course, for Bukayo Saka, the damage had been done. And Troy Townsend from Kick it Out thinks that the statement doesn’t go nearly far enough.
“Their recent statement alludes to data, it alludes to verification process and why it wouldn’t have stopped the abuse. It also alludes to the fact that we still have issues in this country in regards to racism, but it never really offers the solutions that we need. I just think it’s a poor reflection on a platform who have basically allowed racism and other forms of discrimination to flourish on their platforms without ultimately condemning it. If I hear another word of ‘we condemn…’”Troy Townsend, Kick It Out
Saka himself released a heartfelt statement a few days after the final, and he too firmly placed the blame at the door of the social media companies. He said they “had not done enough” to stop the messages in the first place.
It might seem, now time has passed, that the storm surrounding the England team has died down.
But players are still being singled out in subtle ways.
An article in The Times recently mentioned the fact that both Saka and Raheem Sterling earn £90,000 per week as a comparison to what an elite children’s football tutor would cost for one year in Dubai.
Now, both of these footballers have already been subject to other articles in other newspapers that highlight how much they’ve spent on a house, for example.
So what does the Twitter report really tell us?
Well it’s clear that racism towards footballers on social media isn’t going to be eradicated simply by identifying the offending tweets and handing out bans. The football community and the social media companies need to take more responsibility and work together to solve the problem.
As for Saka? Well he’s clearly an optimistic young man. He believes that love always wins.
As if to prove his point, Tottenham fans – who are of course bitter rivals with Arsenal – gave Saka a standing ovation in a friendly match. They also displayed a banner which read “North London stands with Bukayo Saka and all players against racism and discrimination.”
“Saka comes in, gets a nice reception, Bukayo Saka…”Tottenham Hotspur in-house commentary
So maybe Saka’s right. In the end, the spirit of solidarity of football might well win out over the abuse.
But what’s clear is this: at the moment, the social media companies are losing their battle against the sport’s darker side.
And caught in the crossfire are some of its brightest, most empathetic young stars.
Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford and produced by Imy Harper.