Arsenal season-ticket holders racially abused midfielder Granit Xhaka on Twitter, an investigation has claimed.
Xhaka and other Premier League players were targeted during a month-long study as analysts aim to reveal the ‘true life identities’ of prolific abusers on social media.
Analysis by Signify, a data science company, has revealed 16 instances of targeted racist abuse towards Xhaka, including posts from accounts who ‘self-identify as Arsenal season-ticket holders’, in December last year.
Arsenal have told Sky Sports News they take the “strongest possible action” against any abuser that is linked directly to their season ticket or membership database.
The study has also revealed homophobic abuse towards Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin.
Analysts found 52 account users involved with online hate against Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger identified as season-ticket holders of rival clubs. Of those, 25 individuals were identified as making ‘problematic’ posts, which included ‘aggressive sentiment towards Rudiger, directed at him alone’.
Rudiger revealed he suffered “immense” racist abuse on social media following the sacking of Frank Lampard last month.
“Just as technology has driven this problem, developments in artificial intelligence can now be part of the solution,” Jonathan Hirshler, Signify chief executive, said.
“Our technology can scan millions of pieces of content and identify the most abusive using publicly available data. We pair this with our open source investigation capability and in more cases than not, we can also verify the ‘true life’ identities of prolific abusers who hide their real profiles.”
Revealed: Hate against Xhaka
A 30-day analysis of Xhaka’s name on Twitter around the Premier League fixture between Arsenal v Burnley on December 13 revealed:
- 2,004 posts of which 1,374 were marked as potentially containing abuse
- 52 per cent of abusive posts occurred on the day of the Burnley match
- 16 instances of targeted racist abuse, including posts from accounts who self-identify as Arsenal season ticket holders
- Six posts expressed a desire to carry out violence on Xhaka
- Top three most abusive accounts are also the most prolific
- Data is drawn from 117,481 mentions of ‘Xhaka’ on public Twitter
Revealed: Hate against Bellerin
Following a supportive message by Bellerin in December 2020 backing a campaign to tackle homophobia in football by the Gay Gooners LGBT+ supporter group, analysis found an ‘inordinate amount of targeted homophobic abuse’.
The report noted: “Some of these messages have been reported but remain online… after being posted.”
In response to the report, an Arsenal spokesperson told Sky Sports News: “We all need to work together to drive online abuse out of our game and off our social networks.
“The effect on individuals can be very deep and we work closely with our players and staff to help them deal with the impact. This includes support from sports psychologists and our social media team.
“As a club, one of the biggest challenges we face is identifying the perpetrators and linking them directly to our season ticket or membership databases. When we do have that information, we take the strongest possible action. This includes reporting to the police and membership bans from our club.
“Ultimately we all have to work together to stop the abuse and we fully support the Premier League’s recent statement calling on social media platforms to take more action to prevent abuse appearing online, including requiring all users to be subject to a verification process.”
Revealed: Hate against Rudiger
During a 30-day analysis of Rudiger’s Twitter account around Chelsea’s game against Tottenham in the Premier League in February 2020, technology used by analysts found:
- 46,671 authors producing 77,071 tweets
- 653 authors were identifiable fans of a club (870 posts)
- 52 identified as season ticket holders
- 25 individuals made problematic posts (aggressive sentiment towards Rudiger directed at him alone)
- 18 detectable as regular match attendees (with potential to become prolific)
- 16 fans with four or more abusive posts – classed as prolific
The study also revealed a significant ‘spike’ in the number of emojis used on Instagram against Rudiger following Chelsea’s sacking of Frank Lampard, including calling him a traitor, a snake, and a rat.
Chelsea: “Something needs to change”
Following racist abuse sent to Reece James on social media last month, Chelsea said: “This club finds racism and all forms of discriminatory behaviour completely unacceptable. We totally condemn it.
“In sport, as in wider society, we must create a social media environment where hateful and discriminatory actions are as unacceptable online as they would be on the street.
“We add our voice to those urging social media platforms and regulatory authorities to take stronger, more effective, and more urgent action against this despicable behaviour.
“Something needs to change, and it needs to change now.”
In response to the study, a Twitter spokesperson has told Sky Sports News: “There is no room for racist abuse on Twitter and we are resolute in our commitment to ensure the football conversation on our service is safe for fans, players and everyone involved in the game.
“We strongly condemn this behaviour, which does not reflect the vast majority of fans who use Twitter to participate in the vibrant conversations around football in the UK. We will continue to take swift action on the minority that try to undermine the conversation for the majority.
“We also continue to work closely with valued partners in the football community and through the football working group convened by Kick It Out we will collaborate and identify ways to tackle this unacceptable behaviour – both online and offline.”
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