Anonymous Cowards – Online Abuse Needs to Stop

Like most of the country, last night I spent time with friends looking forward to the English team play Italy to win on home turf. The entire tournament lifted the spirits of multiple home nations – and I loved the sense of excitement across the country – much needed after 18 months of a pandemic.

Seeing England go out from penalties was devastating, but the racial abuse via social media cannot be the channel to vent that frustration. Football needs to rid itself of racism, sexism or any other forms of prejudice. We all have a role to play to ensure that happens, and quickly.

Social media and internet companies have a big role to play in this. Online “trolling” is too much of a cutesy word, the abuse that Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka suffered is hate speech, and those responsible should be prosecuted – to the full extent of the law. 

Unfortunately, that’s not happening. Case in point is Ian Wright, who expressed disappointment in February after an Irish teenager – who admitted racially abusing him – escaped a criminal conviction.  

Too often the abuse comes from faceless cowards expressing their hate from a keyboard. Social media and internet companies should ensure that anyone registering a twitter account, a domain name or any other online presence, go through robust authentication processes to ensure they can be traced. Online accountability and personal identification is one of the ways the cloak of anonymity can be removed. Online abuse is not free speech and people should be held accountable for their actions – online or not. Civil libertarians must recognise the line between points of view and online hate or harassment. 

I’m not suggesting handles on Twitter can’t be amusing – I’m sure XxXDirtyDanXxX is an upstanding member of society – but the identity of the individual should be traceable. For full disclosure, I was CEO of Nominet – the domain name company for the UK. We tried to implement tracking and authentication of individuals with limited success. I think the time is now for the industry to up its game – and for governments to strengthen legislation and enforcement to deal with this sort of abuse.

The power of the internet as a force for good should be encouraged, but we should all have the courage to stand up to prejudice and abuse online.  Let’s call it out when we see it…let’s remove their masks.  

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