Marcus Rashford has reported private messages to police and is cooperating with investigations after he was subject to another tide of racist abuse on social media.
The Manchester United forward said he had received more than 70 abusive messages online following his team’s defeat in Wednesday night’s Europa League final against Villarreal. Those messages have been passed to police via the club.
Instagram confirmed it had removed messages directed at the 23-year-old overnight, with racist messages also appearing on Twitter.
In a tweet posted to his 4.5 million followers, Rashford said: “At least 70 racial slurs on my social accounts counted so far. For those working to make me feel any worse than I already do, good luck trying.”
Rashford said that one of the individuals who had sent him abuse was a teacher. “I’m more outraged that one of the abusers that left a mountain of monkey emojis in my DM is a maths teacher with an open profile. He teaches children!! And knows that he can freely racially abuse without consequence,” he wrote.
Later, in response to a supportive message from the Manchester United’s website’s editorial team, Rashford tweeted: “We all wear the same shirt. We all kick the same ball. I’ve been playing this game from the day I could walk. I’m built for criticism of my performance but I can’t accept the ape, monkey, baboon, banana, jungle talk. As a United fan myself, it’s really difficult stuff to read. And I can only think about how this would have made me feel as a 7 year old reading it. How would I ever have any faith in humanity?”
Rashford apologised to fans for failing to win the Europa League final. “I’d be the first to say I’ve struggled this season. It’s not about commitment, dedication or ability. The reality is, I’ve had physical obstacles I’ve had to overcome and that I’m still managing.”
With the forward soon to join the England camp for this summer’s European Championship he is thought to want to put the incident behind him. Although he did not post details of the racist abuse, his representatives confirmed he would be sharing them with police.
The assistant chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, Chris Sykes, confirmed police were investigating, and said that messages had been directed at more players than just Rashford.
“We are aware of a number of racially aggravated social media posts made yesterday evening towards numerous Manchester United players,” he said. “We are working through the posts from yesterday, which originate from countries across the world as well as the UK, to investigate these crimes.
“Nobody should be subject to hateful language and abuse and it is deeply upsetting not only to those who receive these comments, but to anyone who witnesses it on a public forum.”
A message of support for Rashford was posted on the official England Twitter account: “This simply can’t continue to happen on a daily basis. Social media companies must act now to stop the discriminatory abuse that our players and many others continue to endure on their platforms. We’re with you, @MarcusRashford.”
A spokesperson for Facebook, which owns Instagram, said: “The racist abuse sent to Marcus Rashford last night is abhorrent and we don’t want it on Instagram. We swiftly removed a number of comments and accounts for breaking our rules.”
The use of the monkey emoji as a racial slur has become central to a dispute between the football authorities in England and social media companies over abuse and discrimination.
Because the image can have innocent uses, social media companies are reluctant to add it to a list of discriminatory terms that can be automatically identified and removed from their sites. Instead it is considered within the context of the message, which is a slower process and can lead to a failure to act against users.
Those within the game want tech platforms to devote more human resources to tackling “legal but harmful” content on their sites.
“There are many elements of things that we see on social media platforms at the moment which are already illegal,” the FA’s equality, diversity and inclusion director Edleen John said this week. “But for us a lot of the negative elements that we are witnessing, social media companies would argue [about] context which allows things to slip through the loophole.”