Twitter users banned after the torrent of racist abuse directed at England’s footballers are still posting on the platform, the Guardian has learned.
Fifty-six persistently abusive Twitter users had their accounts permanently suspended on 12 July, the day after the European Championship final, amid a blaze of publicity surrounding hateful messages directed at Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka. Some of these users, or ‘personas’, were observed to have joined in directly with the abuse. Thirty of the persistent offenders have since been found to be posting on the network, often under usernames only slightly altered.
The process of creating new accounts to get around suspensions or the blocking of accounts is known as respawning. Campaigners against online abuse, including those within the football industry, have long argued that such a practice is central to the persistent culture of abuse online. They believe it is too easy to respawn, with nothing more than a new email address or sim card required.
For more than a year football has been involved in a prominent struggle with tech companies over the issue of abuse. Arguing that the protection of players is a proxy for tackling hate in society more broadly, there has been protest, constant dialogue and some small concessions won. However, as a new Premier League season begins with the league calling on fans to show “unity against all forms of racism”, the debate appears to be at an impasse.
Respawning is illustrative of the broader problem. One of the key demands made by the game is that social media companies should require ‘verification information’ from their users, such as a passport number or driver’s licence, before they create an account. Tech platforms are against such a move, saying it is an infringement on civil liberties and could compromise some users’ safety. A report from Twitter this week on its response to the Euros abuse notably observed that 99% of accounts subsequently suspended had owners who were publicly “identifiable” and that “ID verification would have been unlikely to prevent the abuse from happening”.
Campaigners within the game, however, argue that respawning shows the importance of verification. If it were applied, it would be easier for a social media platform to take action against any user who submitted identification linked to a removed account. Furthermore, in the case of the most serious instances of abuse, football authorities believe verification information would make it easier for police to pursue prosecutions, with time currently spent tracking down the necessary information to proceed.
Information regarding 30 respawns had been provided to Twitter before this week, the Guardian understands. On Friday morning the Guardian approached Twitter for comment, providing two examples of respawn accounts active on the platform that day. Both accounts were subsequently suspended.
A Twitter spokesperson said: “The accounts referenced have been permanently suspended for violating our hateful conduct policy.”