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Xhaka and Bellerin victims of racial and homophobic abuse by Arsenal fans

Granit Xhaka and Hector Bellerin have been victims of racial and homophobic abuse respectively on social media by Arsenal fans. This has been put forward in a study by Signify, a data science company, according to Sky Sports

Xhaka and other Premier League footballers including Antonio Rudiger were targeted during a month-long study as analysts looked to reveal the true identities of prolific abusers on social media.

In December 2020, it was found that the Switzerland international received racial abuse on 16 different occasions. This included posts from accounts that are controlled by people who ‘self-identify as Arsenal season-ticket holders’. 

Arsenal informed Sky Sports News that they take ‘the strongest possible action’ against any abuser who is linked directly to their season ticket or membership database. 

Xhaka’s name on Twitter was analysed for a 30-day period around the time Arsenal suffered a 1-0 defeat to Burnley at the Emirates. The 28-year-old was sent off in this game. This study revealed the following:

  • 2,004 posts of which 1,374 were marked as potentially containing abuse
  • 52 percent of abusive posts occurred on the day of the Burnley match
  • 16 instances of targeted racist abuse, including posts from accounts who self-identify as Arsenal season ticket holders
  • Six posts expressed a desire to carry out violence on Xhaka
  • Top three most abusive accounts are also the most prolific
  • Data is drawn from 117,481 mentions of ‘Xhaka’ on public Twitter

In December 2020, Hector Bellerin sent out a supportive message backing a campaign to tackle homophobia in football by the Gay Gooners LGBT+ supporter group. It has been found that right after this message was posted, the Spanish defender received an ‘inordinate amount of targeted homophobic abuse’. 

The report said: 

“Some of these messages have been reported but remain online… after being posted.”

Arsenal issued a statement in response to this report. An Arsenal spokesperson said the following to Sky Sports News:

“We all need to work together to drive online abuse out of our game and off our social networks.”

“The effect on individuals can be very deep and we work closely with our players and staff to help them deal with the impact. This includes support from sports psychologists and our social media team.”

“As a club, one of the biggest challenges we face is identifying the perpetrators and linking them directly to our season ticket or membership databases. When we do have that information, we take the strongest possible action. This includes reporting to the police and membership bans from our club.”

“Ultimately we all have to work together to stop the abuse and we fully support the Premier League’s recent statement calling on social media platforms to take more action to prevent abuse appearing online, including requiring all users to be subject to a verification process.”

It is imperative that action is taken by football clubs like Arsenal, authorities in the sport, social media giants and everybody in society so that abusive online behaviour is rooted out of our world.

Individuals who are guilty of abusive comments on social media must be held accountable and the system must be changed so that this is the case every single time an incident occurs. 

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