Onuora demands social media companies do more as Premier League confronts racism

Iffy Onuora has criticised social media companies for being too slow to take down racist posts after Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford became the latest player targeted.

Onuora, the 53-year-old former Gillingham and Huddersfield striker, is set to become the Premier League’s first head of equality, diversity and inclusion as football again finds itself targeted by hate crime.

Chelsea defender Reece James, West Brom’s Romaine Sawyers and Rashford’s team-mates Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial all suffered online racist abuse this week.

Arsenal v Manchester United – Premier League – Emirates Stadium
Arsenal v Manchester United – Premier League – Emirates Stadium

Rashford was then targeted after United’s 0-0 draw at Arsenal on Saturday evening, prompting an investigation from Greater Manchester Police and placing further scrutiny on social media platforms as the UK government plans to introduce new laws on online abuse in 2021.

Onuora told the PA News Agency: “A lot of this is now down to the responsibility of the social media companies.

“In my opinion they’ve been far too slow to take down harmful material, not just in terms of the abuse that footballers have suffered but abuse generally.

“There is technology out there that can protect this a lot quicker than they’ve been minded to move.

“The devil’s in the detail but that has started to come now, and the government pressure from above will be far greater on social media companies to take action promptly.”

A 49-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of racially abusing Sawyers and Onuora said that was an encouraging development, insisting arrests will act as a powerful deterrent.

“He’s probably thought he can get away with it, a 49-year-old man, so we’ll see what the repercussions are for him,” he said.

“I wouldn’t wish ill on anybody in terms of family, but maybe’s he’s got a job to go to and his employers take a dim view of the publicity around it.

“That’s the way it’s got to go, for too long people have thought there’s no consequences to this. That’s the culture that’s got to change as well.

“I’m more assured about the future – it’s an education thing as well – but I’ll be more confident when people understand the repercussions.

“If lives are turned upside down, if that’s what it’s got to be, I will feel more reassured. When that comes together with social media companies taking stronger action I’ll be a lot more happy.”

Greater Manchester Police issued a statement on Sunday over comments made to United players.

“Nobody should be subject to such abuse and it is deeply upsetting not only to those that suffer it, but to all those who come across this awful language too,” the statement said.

“These hateful words have no place anywhere in our society whether online or otherwise.

“A number of these comments have been reported to us and we are liaising with those involved to provide support and we will be investigating these crimes thoroughly.

“Tackling hate crime remains a priority for GMP and we take these reports very seriously.”

Clinton Morrison, the former Birmingham and Crystal Palace striker, backed Rashford’s decision not to share the offensive screenshot.

“I think the way Marcus Rashford reacted with that tweet was brilliant, don’t air what they put because that’s what they want,” Morrison told Sky Sports.

“People say ‘why do you take the knee?’ That is why we’re still doing it, so we keep educating people.

“But I don’t think these people will ever go away, because they get a buzz out of doing it.”

Rashford tweeted on Saturday night: “Humanity and social media at its worst. Yes I’m a black man and I live every day proud that I am.

“No one, or no one comment, is going to make me feel any different. So sorry if you were looking for a strong reaction, you’re just simply not going to get it here.

“I’m not sharing screenshots. It would be irresponsible to do so and as you can imagine there’s nothing original in them.”

The Football Association has vowed to work with the Government and social media platforms to eradicate racism from the game.

A statement released on the FA’s official Twitter account said: “We are united with all of football in our abhorrence of any racist abuse. This is not acceptable in any part of society.

“We will continue to work with the rest of the game, the government and social media platforms to remove this – and all elements of – discrimination from our sport.”