Social media companies need to act immediately to end racial abuse, former footballer Anton Ferdinand said on Wednesday, warning that online hate could even be fatal. The ex-West Ham defender’s call came as he gave evidence to a parliamentary committee scrutinising the British government’s plan to tighten online safety laws.
It also followed fresh racist abuse targeting England’s black footballers both on and off the field.
Ferdinand, 36, highlighted the addictive nature of social media and the “mental health issue of not being able to escape it".
“My worry is, what are the social media companies waiting for? Are they waiting for a high-profile footballer to kill themselves, or a member of their family to commit suicide?"
“Is that what they’re waiting for? Because it they’re waiting for that, it’s too late," he added, accusing companies of talking a good game but failing to act.
England pair Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham were subjected to monkey chants during the national side’s 4-0 World Cup qualifying win against Hungary in Budapest last week.
That followed police investigations into messages directed at some of England’s black players after the Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy in July.
The UK Football Policing Unit in August said it had identified 207 potentially criminal posts, 123 of which were sent from accounts outside Britain.
One man appeared in court in northwest England on Wednesday and admitted a single charge of sending an offensive or abusive message by a public communication network.
Scott McCluskey, 43, from Runcorn in Cheshire, singled out Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho in an abusive Facebook message after they missed their penalties in a shootout.
While at QPR, Ferdinand was at the centre of a racism row with Chelsea’s John Terry in 2011.
Terry was cleared of wrongdoing in court but banned by the Football Association for four matches.
Ferdinand suggested Wednesday there should be greater use of technology to block the sending of potentially inappropriate messages, and also to ban anonymous online accounts.
There also needed to be a greater understanding of the experience of racism within the higher echelons of social media companies, he added.
He was backed by former England women’s international Lianne Sanderson, who told lawmakers she had received racist, homophobic and sexist abuse online.
Marvin Sordell, a former England under-21 player, said social media abuse — and weak sanctions — was one of the reasons he left the sport aged just 28.