Online hate figures could “go through the roof” with spectators barred from football grounds, the chair of Kick It Out fears.
Data released on Thursday showed hate crime incidents were reported in relation to 287 matches across the UK in the 2019-20 season, with figures including online abuse for the first time.
Sanjay Bhandari, the chair of Kick It Out, is concerned that moving games behind closed doors because of the coronavirus pandemic will exacerbate the issue of social media abuse.
He told the PA news agency: “We know for an absolute certainty that there is going to be an increase in online hate.
“It’s been increasing for the last few years and we know that there are people who would be known perpetrators of hate online who go quiet for three or four hours a couple of times a week, and that mirrors the time when they’re in a football stadium.
“The only reason they’re not being hateful then is because they can’t get a reliable web connection to be able to spew hate on Twitter or Facebook.
“Guess what? All those people are watching games, on their TV, with a reliable internet connection so you can guess what’s going to happen.
“Sadly my prediction is (online abuse figures) will go through the roof unless we do something where everybody is taking a stand against hate and reporting it, and that the social media companies are more active in taking it down. If those things don’t happen, it will increase.”
The Home Office said on Thursday it was bringing forward legislation to force social media companies to remove abuse, and that it was working with the football authorities to bring perpetrators to justice.
Bhandari added: “Technology is massively under-regulated, that’s part of the problem.
“It’s something that we’re pushing for and we know that the Premier League, PFA and others are also pushing for it. We know we need help – we don’t think social media companies will do this on their own.
“They’re making the right noises and saying they want to help and they are helping in some ways, but like any other industry, they might need a little bit of help from Government to nudge them into doing the right thing as well.”
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