PM to urge social media firms to take tougher action over online racism

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Boris Johnson will urge social media firms to take tougher action over racism after the abuse of England football players, which he described as being “from the dark spaces of the internet”.

The Prime Minister was preparing to hold talks about online abuse with companies including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in No 10 on Tuesday, in the wake of the attacks after the team’s loss in the Euro 2020 final.

Downing Street said he will “reiterate the urgent need for action” in the meeting but also had to issue a defence of Mr Johnson and Priti Patel over their earlier responses.

England footballer Tyrone Mings accused the Home Secretary of having managed to “stoke the fire” in the tournament by criticising the team for taking the knee against racism as “gesture politics”.

No 10 said Mr Johnson opened a meeting of his Cabinet on Tuesday by condemning the racist attacks players were targeted with after Sunday’s match.

“He said the abuse was utterly disgraceful and had emerged from the dark spaces of the internet,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

“He said he would use today’s meeting with social media firms to reiterate the urgent need for action ahead of tougher laws coming into force through the Online Harms Bill.”

The spokesman added that social media companies should “do everything they can to identify these people”, including handing over details of those who posted racist content.

People put up flags and messages on the mural of Manchester United striker and England player Marcus Rashford on the wall of the Coffee House Cafe on Copson Street, Withington, after it had been defaced
People put up flags and messages on the mural of Manchester United and England player Marcus Rashford in Withington after it had been defaced (Danny Lawson/PA)

No 10 said the meeting had been scheduled ahead of the Euro 2020 attacks and also would host representatives from TikTok, Snapchat, Microsoft and Amazon Kids UK.

The abuse has not been confined to the internet, with a mural in south Manchester of Marcus Rashford having been defaced in what police are treating as a racist incident.

But Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were all subjected to attacks on social media after they were unable to score in the penalty shootout at Wembley.

The comments of Government figures have also been called into question, with Mings criticising the Home Secretary after she described racist abuse as “vile” on Twitter.

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“You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens,” the defender responded.

Last month, Ms Patel declined to condemn fans who booed players as they took the knee in protest against racial injustice at the beginning of matches.

“I just don’t support people participating in that type of gesture, gesture politics, to a certain extent, as well,” she told GB News.

And on whether England fans were right to boo the national team, she said: “That’s a choice for them, quite frankly.”

Ms Patel declined to comment on Mings’ tweet but Conservative former defence minister Johnny Mercer said the footballer was “completely right”.

Tory MP and former minister Steve Baker has also said that Conservatives need to change their attitudes towards people taking the knee, according to the Guardian.

The newspaper reported that he had written in a message to MPs on the Conservatives Against Racism, For Equality group: “Much as we can’t be associated with calls to defund the police, we urgently need to challenge our own attitude to people taking a knee.”

Former Tory Party chairwoman Baroness Warsi also criticised Ms Patel, suggesting the Home Secretary and the Government were guilty of “dog whistle” politics.

Labour also accused the Prime Minister of a failure of leadership over a delay in criticising the booing last month, with leader Sir Keir Starmer saying his “words today ring hollow”.

No 10 issued a defence of Mr Johnson and Ms Patel, saying the Prime Minister had urged the nation to support the team and not boo before England’s first game.

“The Home Secretary is working every day to clamp down on hate crime, racism and violence,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman added.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has been granted an urgent question to Ms Patel to ask for a Commons statement about online racist abuse on Wednesday. A junior minister could be sent in her place.

It comes as Uefa opened a disciplinary investigation into the chaotic scenes at the Euro 2020 final, which saw individuals without tickets breach security at Wembley.

Football Association (FA) chief executive Mark Bullingham said on Monday that a full review would take place into what had happened, accusing “drunken yobs” of trying to force their way into the stadium without tickets.

Uefa has also charged the FA over a pitch invasion during the match, and over the throwing of a firework, the throwing of other objects and disturbing the Italian national anthem.

The FA was fined last Saturday after a laser pointer was shone in the face of Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel as he prepared to face a penalty from England’s Harry Kane during last Wednesday’s semi-final at Wembley.

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