Social media companies are handing police the details of accounts involved in racism towards England football players, with five arrests being made so far in connection with the abuse.
An investigation is under way into posts published on Sunday following England’s defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, which targeted black players including Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka.
Racist comments appeared on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, with the firms facing criticism for not acting swiftly enough to remove hateful posts.
Instagram has admitted the app had “mistakenly” failed to flag some racist comments but said the issue had been addressed, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would not hesitate to legislate further in order to crackdown on online hate.
Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the National Police Chiefs’ Council football policing lead, said the companies are now “working very closely” with the UK Football Policing Unit (UKFPU) – which is conducting the hate crime inquiry – to identify those responsible.
Mr Roberts said: “The racial abuse aimed at our own players following Sunday night’s game is utterly vile and has quite rightly shocked and appalled people across the country.
“Our England team have been true role models during the tournament, conducting themselves with professionalism and dignity. I’m disgusted there are individuals out there who think it’s acceptable to direct such abhorrent abuse at them, or at anybody else.
“The UKFPU investigation is well under way and work continues to identify those responsible. We are working very closely with social media platforms, who are providing data we need to progress inquiries.
“If we identify that you are behind this crime, we will track you down and you will face the serious consequences of your shameful actions.”
On Wednesday, Greater Manchester Police confirmed a 37-year-old man from Ashton upon Mersey had been arrested over posts made after the match.
A 42-year-old man from Runcorn is the fifth person to have been questioned, Cheshire Police confirmed on Thursday.
The man was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of displaying threatening, abusive or insulting written material that is likely to stir up racial hatred under section 18 of the Public Order Act 1986.
He has since been released under investigation pending further inquires.
Bukayo Saka, one of the players to experience a backlash online after he missed his penalty confirming England’s loss to Italy, said in a statement on Thursday: “For those who have campaigned on my behalf and sent me heartfelt letters, wished me and my family well – I’m so thankful.
“This is what football should be about. Passion, people of all races, genders, religions and backgrounds coming together with one shared joy of the rollercoaster of football.
“To the social media platforms Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, I don’t want any child or adult to have to receive the hateful and hurtful messages that me, Marcus and Jadon have received this week. I knew instantly the kind of hate that I was about to receive and that is a sad reality that your powerful platforms are not doing enough to stop these messages.”
He added: “There is no place for racism or hate of any kind in football or in any area of society and to the majority of people coming together to call out the people sending these messages, by taking action and reporting these comments to the police and by driving out the hate by being kind to one another, we will win. Love always wins.”
The UKFPU said that, as of Tuesday, 897 football-related incidents and 264 arrests had been recorded across the country in the 24-hour period surrounding the final.
That took the number of football-related incidents during the tournament to 2,344, and arrests to 630.
Asked about measures to tackle the issue following a speech in Coventry, the Prime Minister acknowledged the Government had “got to go further” than simply extending the scope of football banning orders to include online abuse.
Banning orders exclude people from attending matches for between three and 10 years.
The Prime Minister met heads of social media companies on Tuesday, warning them that, under the Online Harms Bill, they could face fines amounting to 10% of their global revenue if they did not act to remove hateful and racist abuse from their platforms.
He added on Thursday: “I said we will not hesitate to go further because they do have the technology to sort this out, they can adjust their algorithms and we will use legislation if we have to, just as we used the threat of legislation to stop the European Super League.”
He also apologised for comments he previously made in newspaper columns, when asked if they could have given a “green light” to racist behaviour.
“The best thing I can say about that is I obviously apologise for the things that I have said that have caused offence and continue to apologise for them,” Mr Johnson said.
In an exchange on Twitter Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, admitted that the app “mistakenly” marked some of the comments sent to players as acceptable rather than flagging them for further review by human content moderators.
“We have technology to try and prioritize reports, and we were mistakenly marking some of these as benign comments, which they are absolutely not. The issue has since been addressed,” he said.
“It is absolutely not okay to send racist emojis, or any kind of hate speech, on Instagram. To imply otherwise is to be deliberately misleading and sensational.”