Ross Clark

Isn’t it time social media cracked down on racism?

Isn't it time social media cracked down on racism?
(Photo by HGL/Getty Images)
Text settings

No sooner had Bukayo Saka’s penalty kick thudded into the gloves of the Italian goalkeeper than you could see it coming. Racists were not going to miss the opportunity to attack the England team. And sure enough, within hours the sewer that is Twitter (even at the best of times) had become a torrent of effluent.

Yes, it does show there is still an underbelly of racism in English society — even if the charge that we are a country of ‘systemic racism’ left over from our days as a colonial power is wrong-headed and unfair. In any case, some of the tweets doing the rounds may not be the work of English fans. To give a flavour, I am not convinced that 'Rigoberto' who tweeted 'Italy and Argentina had no n*****s in their teams, both won the cups. This is a lesson to learn no [sic] to put monkeys in a humans game' owns a bulldog and lives somewhere beyond the Mile End Road.

But aren’t we missing the real story here, which is how this racist filth managed to find its way onto Twitter at all. This is, after all, a company that seems to have no trouble removing posts that push heretical lines on Covid or vaccination. In April, for example, the company was caught removing tweets that were critical of the Indian government’s handling of the Covid crisis. And it took great delight in removing the account of the elected President of the United States from its servers.

Yet its algorithms can’t seem to cope with blocking tweets that contain the n-word or blatant racist messages directed at individual England players. Some tweets now seem to have been removed, but even so, if you do a search with the n-word and ‘penalty’ it still draws up a few examples. I don’t know a great deal about coding, but I can’t think it is really all that difficult to pick up certain words and remove them. I know, too, that people will try to get around algorithms by slightly altering the spelling of words. Yet I searched under the genuine spelling and still it was pulling up tweets related to last night’s game. Is Twitter really putting in the effort to employ technology to remove genuinely offensive and potentially libellous content — or is just taking action on a few favoured political causes?

Written byRoss Clark

Ross Clark is a leader writer and columnist who, besides three decades with The Spectator, has written for the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and several other newspapers. His satirical climate change novel, The Denial, is published by Lume Books.