Destination Digital

Euros 2020: Destination Digital’s Debbie Porter Addresses Social Media Racist Abuse with BBC Radio Derby

BBC Radio Derby asked Destination Digital’s Debbie Porter for her thoughts on social media racist abuse following the disappointing end to the Euros 2020 final on 11 July, where England lost on penalties to Italy.

When the Euros 2020 finally kicked off on 11 June 2021, the nation anxiously watched England work their way towards the team’s first final since 1966. The UK has faced some challenges over the last 18 months, and so had many pinned their hopes and aspirations on the much-loved European Football Championships in the hope it would bring some joy and a sense of normality back to the country.

With the hype of the Euros over the last few weeks, fueled by constant media coverage, and the feeling post-Covid in this country that we wanted something to go our way, at last it seemed that maybe England had a chance this time.

There most likely isn’t a person in the country that doesn’t know how the game turned out on 11 July when England lost the game on the final ball of the penalties. The end result was deflating and for football fans that had invested so much energy and hope into Sunday’s game, the result couldn’t have been worse for people who are big fans of the game.

The supportive atmosphere seen throughout the tournament quickly took a disappointing turn when some England fans took to social media to throw racist abuse at Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka who failed to score in the penalties in the final, leading Italy to win by default at 3-2 in the penalties.

Gareth Southgate infamously missed the crucial penalty that saw England crash out of the Euros in 1996. He bore the brunt of abuse for that for a very long time afterwards. There has been nothing different between the misses by the three players on Sunday night and what happened for Gareth Southgate that fateful day in 1996 except the racial abuse.

Debbie Porter, Managing Director of Destination Digital, was invited to speak about the aftermath of the Euros final in a morning segment on BBC Radio Derby, presented by Ian Skye. Debbie has previously appeared on the local radio channel to address the #StopOnlineAbuse social media boycott that was organised by sports organisations across the UK in May of this year, and so there has been a degree of inevitability about the abuse received by the Three Lions players.

Debbie commented, “I was invited to talk about racism on social media earlier this year, related to the #stoponlineabuse campaign.  At the time I was asked ‘What now as a result of this boycott?’ and my response at that time was that the boycott would not stop racism in sport or racism on social media. That prediction has sadly shown itself to be true very quickly.”


Is racism on social media against the law and what is being done about it?

Whilst it has been great to see a larger majority rallying around the players in the aftermath of the game with many coming out to support the players and denounce the racist attacks, it’s worrying to see this still happening with a frequency that is all too often.

It is claimed that over 1,000 tweets, both from machine automation and human review, were swiftly removed from Twitter and numerous accounts were permanently suspended following the Euros final.

Harry Kane, took to Twitter to lash out at the racist behaviour of so-called England fans, saying, “Three lads who were brilliant all summer had the courage to step up and take a pen (sic) when the stakes were high. They deserve support and backing not the vile racist abuse they’ve had since last night. If you abuse anyone on social media you’re not an @England fan and we don’t want you.”

Ian went on to ask Debbie about the laws around racism online, to which she replied, “In a nutshell the laws are exactly the same as the ones that bind us in society. Racism is illegal and so racism online is also illegal. People can be prosecuted, and when enough evidence is gathered, they are.”

Though gathering evidence and enlisting the help of social media companies to stamp out racism is not always easy. Quite often when you report hate speech comments to social media companies they are found not to be ‘against community guidelines’ which feels as if the moderators have not engaged properly with the reported comment thread.

All too often the moderators will also take each comment reported quite literally, looking for the offensive comment or word, ignoring any euphemisms or colloquialisms that show the reader what’s really meant.  As Debbie pointed out on the radio interview, “A comment thread full of monkey and banana emojis and no words, will not necessarily get removed. Because monkey means monkey and banana means banana, right?  Except that we all know in this context that it doesn’t.”

We are of the belief that social media companies, whilst they acknowledge the problem, don’t go far enough in doing something about it.  If they were willing to address this, then they could which will likely only come as a result of commercial and monetization pressures by their users, or through governmental pressure which needs to be asserted.

So we have a long way to go before we can put this issue behind us, which means we all have to step up to our responsibilities in speaking out.

You can listen to the full broadcast here until its expiry on Tuesday 3rd August 2021 or skip to 17:30:00 to hear what Debbie had to say about racial abuse online.

How can companies get rid of racist content? 

If you own it, then remove it!

If you leave it up on your social media channels then as the publisher you are endorsing it, and that could have legal ramifications for you as a business as well as being morally wrong.

You can remove comments, hide comments, ban users from your social pages so there is plenty you can do to stamp it out.  If a post has started to get out of control you can archive or delete it entirely, taking all that commenting activity with it.

As a rule of thumb, look for the three dots to take action to remove something or ban someone. We would also suggest that before you remove content, you report it to the relevant social network too, and then report the account that made the abusive remarks. Hit back in as many ways as you can.

If you have employees that engage in this kind of activity on social media, keep your ear to the ground and gather evidence …and then sack them.

Everyone’s employment contract usually *at the very least* has a clause about bringing the company into disrepute, and it is often a gross misconduct issue. If someone is prosecuted for racism then this is also gross misconduct and clear grounds for immediate dismissal.  Use that power and send a strong signal to everyone else who works for you and those who are watching your company. At Destination Digital, they would be out of the door the very same day.


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