Updated: Apr 13
By Jatinder Singh, Lighthouse Associate
A teenager was sentenced to prison recently for trolling England footballer Marcus Rashford and proposed new laws include recommendations for 5 year sentences for online hate offenders!
Trolling in Football
As someone who experienced a lot of racism myself as a football mad kid, particularly on the football field itself- I know how painful it is. Especially when you are in a minority and the opposition players outnumber you. It can be very lonely! So when I saw that a troll of Marcus Rashford, the England and Manchester United player had been sent to jail, I was really surprised given how prevalent the problem has been and how little action has been taken in the past in this area, so I wanted to write about it.
The Problem of Trolls in Football
Now, it seems the tide is changing against football trolls as the police and judicial authorities are showing that abuse and trolling online will no longer be tolerated or left unpunishable!
For years footballers, particularly foreign and non-white footballers have been subject to a bombardment of abuse, especially black players, when they have made mistakes on the pitch - and for years their abusers “got away with it.”
Trolls want to cause as much pain as possible and they know that racism has been a problem in football for decades and is an emotionally vulnerable target for players. Ultimately how would you feel if you had tens of thousands of trolls sending you abusive and vitriolic messages, bringing your race into it because they know it will hurt you a lot? If you want to educate yourself more about the pathology of a troll, this article from one of my colleagues Mel Francis goes into meaningful detail.
Trolling in football, which has often been tribal anyway, has got worse recently as trolls have been able to use social media to directly target and abuse football players. This is largely because over the last 10 years, footballers have used their social media accounts as a way to build their brands and connect with their fans. Trolls have therefore spotted an opportunity to inflict their vitriol through a more direct avenue, knowing that players will see their posts! Furthermore, trolls also use football results as an excuse i.e it’s not just because their team lost a football match, the losing of a football match is a perfect excuse to inflict their anger onto someone else.
Hate Crime Is A Criminal Offence
However that is now changing. On March 17th 2022, a teenager, Justin Lee Price (aged 19), was sentenced to 6 weeks in prison for abusing Marcus Rashford after he missed a penalty in the Euro 2020 final held at Wembley Stadium in 2021.
Mark Johnson, senior Crown prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service in the West Midlands stated:
"I hope this case sends out the message that we will not tolerate racism and offenders will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
Currently, hate crime relates to specific offences that include race as a basis for the motive of harassment. As a result, while there is specific legislation that relates to online harassment that isn’t covered by these specific offences, trolls have been able to get away with their harassment by slipping through the cracks especially with the police being under-resourced.
In line with changing this, the government is in the process of introducing the Online Safety Bill which is currently going through parliament. As part of this proposed law, Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries said the proposed new law would have the effect of:
“[bringing] the full weight of the law against those who use the internet as a weapon to ruin people’s lives”.
Furthermore, the Online safety Bill would include prosecuting those who sent communications “which are known to be false with the intention to cause non-trivial emotional, psychological or physical harm” with prison sentences up to 5 years!
Consequences Of Trolling In Football
Now a lot of people may well go, “well they are professional footballers. They earn £100K+ per week so they can put up with the racism and the trolling abuse! However the point is that they are human beings and what they earn shouldn’t come into it. Would you accept abuse from your customers if they paid you more? Secondly no matter how much someone earns, it’s virtually impossible not to be affected by someone else’s anger when it is in the thousands of posts!!
“The hardest bit for me to accept - even with all the years I've been in the game - is that somebody, an older or younger individual, would racially abuse somebody because of the colour of their skin. The thought process for somebody at the receiving end of that is incredibly degrading. But until you see more people of colour involved in the visual aspects of game, at higher positions - board level, director level - it will continue to be more difficult.”
Trolls, be warned, the days of harassment without consequence are coming to an end! You will be held accountable.
At Lighthouse International we are being part of the solution to trolling, whether that is helping individuals or businesses. Lighthouse International has a number of initiatives including Business Against Trolling which is supporting businesses and business owners and individuals employed by them who have become victims of online trolling which is severely damaging them, their family and their business.
To find out more, please get in touch by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.