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Can you be arrested for social media abuse? Racist football slurs branded ‘unforgivable’

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England’s hopes of bringing home the Euro 2020 trophy were thwarted on Sunday evening as they faced Italy in the final of the tournament. Gareth Southgate’s team performed heroically throughout the 120-minute match, drawing 1-1 with Italy before losing the game in the penalty shootout 3-2 as substitutes Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford missed their shots.

There is no doubt that this England team has brought much pride and unity to a country reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and a chaotic aftermath of Brexit. However, some people still took it upon themselves to hurl racial slurs at the players in the wake of the game.

Southgate himself described the behaviour as “unforgivable”, having previously written an open letter to the country about the issue of racism in football, and supported players in taking the knee.

Speaking in a post-match conference, the England manager said: “It’s just not what we stand for.

“We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together, in people being able to relate to the national team and the national team stands for everybody and so that togetherness has to continue.

“We have shown the power our country has when it does come together and has that energy and positivity together.”

Southgate added: “Everybody has to remember when they support the team that they also represent England and should represent what we stand for.”

England captain and Tottenham striker Harry Kane took to Twitter to share his feelings on the abuse received by his black teammates.

In a heartfelt post, Kane said: “Three lads who were brilliant all summer had the courage to step up and take a pen when the stakes were high.

“They deserve support & 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.”

Can you be arrested for social media abuse?

The laws around social media abuse continue to be vague, largely due to how new social media is to society.

The Met Police has its own guidelines on what an individual should do if they’re being harassed social media.

The policing body explained: “The most relevant offences are ‘harassment’ and ‘malicious communications’.

“For harassment to be committed, there must have been a clear ‘course of conduct’ – that is, two or more related occurrences.

“The messages do not necessarily have to be violent in nature, but would need to have caused some alarm or distress.

“If there has only been a single communication, it’s unlikely it would qualify as harassment, but could be considered a malicious communication.

“For such an offence to be committed, a message must be sent to another person, or sent via a public communication network, that is indecent, grossly offensive, obscene, threatening or menacing.”

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Whether or not the perpetrator will be arrested depend on the nature of the case and the severity of the abuse.

On the side of social media platforms, there’s not much they can do about racial abuse online.

They may just remove an offending post, temporarily restrict the sender’s access or permanently suspend their account if their behaviours deemed to be sufficiently bad.

In response to the football latest incidents, Twitter said on Monday morning it had removed more than 1,000 posts within the past 24 hours that had violated is policies, and also permanently suspended numerous accounts.

A company spokesperson from Twitter said: “The abhorrent racist abuse directed at England players last night has absolutely no place on Twitter.”

A Facebook spokesperson, who owns Instagram on which much of Saka’s abuse was posted, said: “No one should have to experience racist abuse anywhere, and we don’t want it on Instagram.

“We quickly removed comments and accounts directing abuse at England’s footballers last night and we’ll continue to take action against those that break our rules.

“In addition to our work to remove this content, we encourage all players to turn on Hidden Words, a tool which means no one has to see abuse in their comments or DMs [Direct Messages].

“No one thing will fix this challenge overnight, but we’re committed to keeping our community safe from abuse.”

Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden has warned social media platforms that they faced severe financial penalties if they don’t do more to tackle the issue.

Mr Dowden tweeted: “I share the anger at appalling racist abuse of our heroic players.

“Social media companies need to up their game in addressing it and, if they fail to, our new Online Safety Bill will hold them to account with fines of up to 10 percent of global revenue.”

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