Greater Manchester Police have launched an investigation after receiving reports of social media abuse directed at Manchester United players in the past week.
Marcus Rashford was the latest player subjected to racial abuse, following similar treatment of team-mates Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial.
“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,” said a GMP statement.
Rashford described the abuse as “humanity and social media at its worst”.
The 22-year-old, who was awarded the MBE for his work fighting child food poverty, received multiple racist messages on Instagram on Saturday.
They were sent to the England striker after United’s 0-0 draw with Arsenal.
“I’m a black man and I live every day proud that I am,” he said on Twitter.
“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.
“I have beautiful children of all colours following me and they don’t need to read it. Beautiful colours that should only be celebrated.”
The GMP said they were aware that a number of Manchester United players had suffered abuse on social media between Wednesday and Saturday.
They added: “Nobody should be subject to such abuse and it is deeply upsetting not only to those who suffer it, but to all those who come across this awful language too.
“These hateful words have no place anywhere in our society whether online or otherwise.”
Facebook, which owns Instagram, also released a statement after Rashford’s abuse. It said: “We have taken action in this case by removing accounts and comments and are continuing to investigate.”
‘Be nice and be good humans’
Karen Carney, who won 144 England caps, deleted her Twitter account in January following online abuse she received after a tweet by Leeds United questioned her comments as a pundit.
BBC Radio 5 Live pundit Carney, 33, said the abuse sports personalities were receiving was “horrible and brutal”.
“If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it on social media and hide behind a platform,” said Carney. “It’s really upsetting and we need to do something about it, especially in a pandemic. It’s really tough at the moment.
“I would just urge people to be nice and be good humans. The people that receive this, it bothers them and upsets them.
“The people posting on social media would see Marcus Rashford and ask him for a photo. He’s a human being and what I love about him is he didn’t rise to it.
“Any person that receives abuse, if they say something back [online] they get the abuse 10 times over. We urge the government to do something about it because it’s getting beyond a joke. I worry about people’s mental health.”
Speaking on Match of the Day, former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright said the authorities and social media companies needed to do more to identify the perpetrators.
He said: “It seems to be a fact if a black player plays poorly – or they think they did – they come with all the emojis and whatever. There are ways of being able to catch people. They’re not vigilant enough – nowhere near.
“It should be something they’re doing hand in hand [authorities and social media sites]. But how much do they care deep down?”
Former Tottenham, Newcastle and England midfielder Jermaine Jenas added: “The platforms, I need them to show me these people and say they’re doing everything they can to bring some justice. For those asking why we are still taking the knee, there you go.”
Former Manchester City defender Nedum Onuoha felt people on social media were “energised” to post abuse because the social media companies were not doing enough to stop it.
“When it happened to Azel Tuanzebe, you think it’s a big talking point and nothing can happen like that again, but there’s something happening again and again,” said Onuoha on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Groups of people feel energised and can do it again and say whatever they want to say. We’re relying on technology giants to solve a situation they have created themselves.
“Some people go on there with anonymity and feel they can say anything whether to do with race or sexuality and it’s completely unacceptable. How do you police a billion people on social media?
“The things that are being said are a disgrace and I want change, lots of people want change and we need change but until there’s that level of accountability people will feel energised to say whatever they want.”
PFA calls for players to be protected
Players’ union the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) says action should have been taken earlier.
“Players have repeatedly raised this issue publicly and still the abuse persists,” said a PFA statement. “While none of us have the power to eradicate racism from society, social media companies must do their part and eliminate it from their platforms – over which they do have control.
“Enough time has been given to the networks to demonstrate a willingness to act. We have been at crisis point with this issue for two years. Racism causes trauma, and online abuse presents a significant risk to people’s mental health and wellbeing.
“Last week we met with Cabinet ministers to discuss discrimination in football with players sharing first-hand accounts of their experience of racist abuse online.
“Following the meeting, the government committed to introduce new laws around online abuse and launch a fan-led review of football governance. While we welcome these steps, finding a way to protect players from ongoing racist abuse cannot wait.”
The Football Association had reiterated its commitment to clamping down on discrimination of all kinds earlier on Saturday.
“We are united with all of football in our abhorrence of any racist abuse,” read an FA statement. “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.”
On Friday Chelsea said they were “disgusted” after right-back Reece James was racially abused on social media.
On Saturday a man was arrested after a racist message was sent to West Brom midfielder Romaine Sawyers.
Tuanzebe and Martial were racially abused on social media after Manchester United’s defeat by Sheffield United on Wednesday.
The PFA statement added: “Over the past five days, we have seen another spate of disgusting racial abuse aimed at black professional footballers.
“Axel Tuanzebe, Anthony Martial, Romain Sawyers, Reece James and Marcus Rashford should not have to put up with being racially abused because some ‘fans’ don’t like the results of a football match. These players are at work and racist abuse should not be tolerated as part of any profession.
“We have been very clear that social media platforms are an extension of a professional footballer’s workplace. Every effort must be taken to protect them – and all other users – from racist abuse while using social media.
“Offline consequences for online hate crimes must be pursued whenever possible.”
On Monday, the UK government held talks with current and former footballers about tackling discrimination and abuse.
On Friday a spokesperson for Facebook said: “There is no place for racism on Instagram and we are committed to removing it when we find it. We know there is more to do and we will continue to work closely with clubs, players and football authorities to investigate instances of discrimination and collectively tackle this issue.”
Twitter said in a statement: “Racist behaviour has no place on our service and when we identify accounts that violate any of the Twitter Rules, we take enforcement action.
“We have proactively engaged and continue to collaborate with our valued partners in football to identify ways to tackle this issue collectively and will continue to play our part in curbing this unacceptable behaviour – both online and offline.”