Racist abuse online is not new. It has been happening for decades. In the past couple of days, racist abuse has hit the headlines following vile online attacks against three England footballers, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka. On Sunday, these three black players did not score penalties in the crucial closing minutes of the UEFA European Championships final match against Italy.
The vast majority of people are shocked and angered by the racist abuse against these three players. However, I doubt that the players themselves are as surprised as the rest of us. They will have already have suffered a seemingly endless stream of online abuse for many years. To anyone who is not white, online racism is a daily reality.
Therefore, the crucial question to answer is how does the Internet enable people to be racist online in social media outlets, for example. If we can understand how these racist posts originate, it means we can at least reduce them and, possibly, eliminate them entirely.
The simple answer to the question is that the sickening array of vile racist posts online arise because the social media companies allow them. Indeed, Instagram is under fire because it has said that posting known racist emojis of monkeys and bananas is not outside its community guidelines. The companies are clearly making a choice. They have obviously decided that freedom of expression is more important than the harm produced.
Social media companies could change things
Yet, they also have the power to allow freedom of speech and reduce the harm at the same time. But they are not making that decision.
All they need to do is to prevent accounts from being set up anonymously. It is perfectly possible to verify identity using passport records, for instance. That would mean that every account would be a known and identifiable individual. No bots. No anonymous accounts.
That’s vital. Study after study over the past couple of decades has shown that social media anonymity allows hatred to arise. People feel protected by saying vile things because no one will be able to know who they are. Not only can they have an anonymous account, if that account does get banned because it posts something racist…